Must Read: Q&A – How to Deal with a Long Hockey Season
Anne Asks: My biggest concern is that the hockey season, particularly for Tier I and Tier II, is so long. USA Hockey preaches that they want these kids to do multiple sports. That is very difficult given the fact that the season starts in August or September and can end as late as April. This rules out all high school sports for the year. Most high school coaches don’t understand the commitment of Tier hockey and tend to be less than flexible. Furthermore, spring sports typically start mid to late February just in time for Districts and Nationals. Most leagues are done in early February, however, the season, for those making it to Nationals, gets extended a full two months after league play. Can the season be changed to better accommodate USA Hockey’s recommendations of multiple sport athletes?
Answer (from Joe Doyle with USA Hockey): This is a very valid concern and one USA Hockey shares and is trying to address in the American Development Model.
USA Hockey is currently working with districts, affiliates, leagues and associations to try to shorten the season, especially at the Mite (recommend five months), Squirt (six months) and Pee Wee (seven months) age groups. This doesn’t mean that during the off-season a player has to stay away from the rink completely. However, if they do choose to go to the rink during this time period, it should primarily be for an unstructured, pond-hockey type skate (3 on 3 cross ice, stick and puck, etc), and there should be no pressure to attend if they prefer to put their bags down for the entire off-season.
As kids get older and possible sport specialization becomes part of their overall athletic development, they have some tough decisions to make. This could mean possibly changing from a multi-sport athlete to a dual-sport athlete. When a hockey player reaches their mid-teenage years, depending on whether hockey is their primary or secondary sport, an 8 to 10 month season becomes a likely reality.
At USA Hockey we highly encourage, and sports science as well long-term athlete development principles support , the idea of being a multi-sport athlete as well as late specialization in a particular sport. Furthermore, we firmly believe there will be fewer instances of ‘burnout’ and the development of an overall better ‘player’ in whatever primary sport is ultimately chosen.
The challenge lies in, as you are well aware and we are actively pursuing, a system and structure that allows this multi-sport concept to be a reality for our children.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Joe Doyle, Regional Manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, for answering this question.