How my kids are like Wayne Gretzky

March 31, 2014 8 Comments »
How my kids are like Wayne Gretzky

My daughter doesn’t play hockey and neither does my son. At least not yet. They’re learning to skate, first.

But if they ever play Canada’s game, it will be because they want to play. And in at least one way, they’ll both be like the Great One.

Because every spring they’ll hang up the skates and put away the sticks.

They won’t play spring hockey. Or summer hockey. Instead they’ll play baseball. Or tennis. Or lacrosse. Or they’ll swim, play pickup soccer, ride bikes in the trails that run through the forest near our home.

In an interview with the National Post in March 2000, Gretzky said that, “If sport has a high point of the year, it must be the first week of spring.”

Interesting sentiment coming from one of the best hockey players that ever lived. But his rationale makes sense to me. As much as I loved playing hockey while growing up, I remember needing a break. I was actually tired of the schedule and the equipment by the end of the season.

Gretzky’s full quote is worth reprinting:

…When I was growing up, I used to love this time of year. It was when I put my hockey equipment away and I was absolutely ecstatic to see the end of the hockey season. One of the worst things to happen to the game, in my opinion, has been year-round hockey and, in particular, summer hockey.

All it does for kids, as far as I can tell, is keep them out of sports they should be doing in warmer weather. I could hardly wait to get my lacrosse stick out and start throwing the ball around. It didn’t matter how cold or rainy it would be, we’d be out firing the ball against walls and working on our moves as we played the lacrosse equivalent to road hockey.

All the good hockey players seemed to play lacrosse in those days and everyone of them learned something from the game to carry over to the other – things athletes can only learn by mixing up games they play when they are young.

In fact, most of Canada’s best hockey players are involved in other sports, and when they choose to focus on hockey alone, they don’t specialize until they are 14.

This is not to say that spring and summer hockey programs are bad or wrong because the truth is that some kids want to keep playing. So a great plan is to also include some other sports and physical activities to balance things out a bit.

Renowned coach Brent Sutter agrees that well-rounded athletes make the best hockey players and even Hockey Canada recognizes that playing other sports improves the skills of goalies and forwards and defensemen.

In fact, Hockey Canada’s new spring hockey programs incorporate other sports including soccer, floor-ball, baseball, lacrosse, golf, and mountain biking. The idea is to help hockey players develop overall athleticism. The “skill-development camps” focus on fun. Which is a break in and of itself from the grind of high-pressure competition.

Gretzky’s not the only hockey legend to frown on year-round hockey for kids.

In 1998, Trevor Linden told sports journalist Steve Simmons that he played hockey until April, then played baseball all summer until hockey started again in mid-September. “I didn’t even see my skates for about five months a year,” he said. “I think the kids today are playing way too much hockey, and all you have to do is look at the development to see it really isn’t producing any better players. We have to let the kids be kids.”

And Bobby Orr, while on tour to promote his autobiography, told Macleans that, “Kids don’t need to play all year, they can have a program of light exercise and play other sports. If you look at the best players in all sports, they’re athletes — they play other sports.”

Spring is on the horizon. The weather’s turning warm. Let that be a sign that it’s time to leave the rink for some fun in the sun.

Until September, of course. By then everyone’s ready to hit the ice again.

Spring and summer sports for hockey players

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8 Comments

  1. Geoff June 28, 2014 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    I agree with the article 1000% kids need to do all sports until they decide to specialize at age 14.

    It was a lot easier for those older players to take the summer off because everyone took the summer off. Today if a child doesn’t play spring and summer hockey they are a step behind when they show up for rep team evaluations in the fall. If they don’t make rep, then they get behind even further in their development.

    How do you fix it so the children which want to take the spring/summer off can make the rep teams in the winter?

    Really, the only way I see this happening is if associations do some of their evaluations at end of the year for the next year’s teams.

    • Richard Monette
      Richard Monette June 29, 2014 at 7:45 am - Reply

      That’s a good suggestion Geoff.

      An assessment at the end of the season complemented with a “check-in” at the beginning of the next season to accommodate summer growth is a creative way of doing it.

      I believe we are at a turning point and any creative idea to help address the situation is welcomed. This being said, it is important to educate and engage hockey parents to understand the LTPD approach as a model that is better for all kids no matter the level of play.

      • Geoff July 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm - Reply

        Richard, I read through the the LTPD and I like the concepts behind it.

        Hockey Canada should be developing simple objective tests for physical literacy which can be used during rep tryouts for off-ice evaluation.

        The criteria should be laid out for everyone to see. It should combine the on-ice evaluation with the off-ice evaluation to come up with a total score. I don’t expect associations to post their on-ice scores, because it is too subjective and filled with biases, but the off-ice scores should be posted.

        Just for fun, they should probably do a beep test, because everyone loves them :)

        There should be more emphasis on selecting the best all around athletes.

    • Blaine Kyllo
      Blaine Kyllo June 29, 2014 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      I really like that idea, Geoff.

  2. RSM April 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I have been involved in minor hockey for over 15 years, and in my opinion, part of the reason spring/summer hockey has become so important and or popular – is that a lot of parents don’t have realistic views on their childs abilities. They tend to think their kids are much better than they truely are, and also want to make sure they’re a part of all the ‘best’ opportunities. Every spring league or team I know of calls itself ‘AAA’. Meanwhile, I think that most winter AAA teams would make quick work of the spring teams. But it sure lures players to sign up.
    There’s no solving this, I coached ‘AA’ hockey in Winnipeg and Calgary, and I saw it in both places. You can’t blame a parent for wanting their kid to succeed, so I can’t really see spring or summer hockey going anywhere.
    But I do agree the best athletes are those who have experienced many different sports and situations..

    • Blaine Kyllo
      Blaine Kyllo April 3, 2014 at 8:09 am - Reply

      That’s a good insight, Roscoe. We don’t think that spring or summer hockey programs are going anywhere, either. The best spring and summer programs go out of their way to promote skill development over and endless series of games, and incorporate other physical activities, too. Mornings for hockey practice, for example, and baseball or soccer in the afternoon. In fact, Hockey Canada has designed exactly this kind of off-season programming.

  3. Vic April 1, 2014 at 7:18 am - Reply

    It is amazing how much reserach there is to support this approach, but not enough of it is promoted to the people in control of these things – The Parents.

    I understand that there are many businesses set up on year round sports (not just hockey but soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming and more) and the goal to be the best. Could we not promote the benefits of the other sports in whole child/athlete development and the resulting success of elite athletes?

    I sincerely hope things change before we find that our elite athletes have a narrow field of expertise and the resulting increase in injuries.

What do you think?