Player Development: Following the Research
Hockey has fallen victim to the “quick fix” and “instant results” mentality that seems to be increasingly dominating our culture. The new norm is parents spending countless amounts of money for private lessons and private trainers to accelerate the player development process, while overlooking the actual science behind long-term athletic development. Parental expectations for success continue to rise while the overall level of patience falls, and as a result adults are forgetting that our hockey players are developing children. Research and practice has proven that athletic development is a long-term process, a marathon not a sprint. It requires movement away from early specialization and constant adult directives towards an active multi sport lifestyle guided by self-drive and intrinsic motivation.
Numerous studies have reveled that children who specialize in sports at young ages (meaning roughly 14 and younger) suffer from higher rates of adult inactivity, more overuse injuries, and early burnout. No study has yet to produce supporting evidence that specializing early in hockey is beneficial for player development. Conversely, the benefits of multi-sport participation are proven to include (among others) improvement in skills and ability, increased motivation, better decision-making, stronger pattern recognition skills, and higher levels of creativity.
The opposite of the early specialization is the multi-sport lifestyle. Creating a multi-sport lifestyle takes planning and a commitment to become active away from organized sports. During a week, we have 168 hours to fill. If a child spends 8-10 hours per night for sleep, 30-40 hours per week for school, and time to eat 5-7 meals per day, the time spent on health related fitness should be 20 hours per week. For the younger ages, less than half of the 20 hours per week should be used for team/hockey club specific activities.
• 6U – 10U: 5 – 8 hours run by club, 12 – 15 multisport on their own
• 10U – 14U: 8 – 10 hours run by club, 10 – 12 multisport on their own
• 15U – 19U: 10 – 15 hours run by club, 5 – 10 hours multisport on their own
The multisport activities during a sport season should include any type of non-structured sport. This includes skiing, biking, hiking, walking, running, playing tag, and much more. To truly maximize long-term development, the multisport experience away from the hockey club should only be self-motivated sport experiences. It’s tough to justify at young ages that supplemental private training and extra practice time run by adults is self-motivating activity. Like a properly run off-ice training program, engaging in other sports that use different muscle groups enhances agility, balance and coordination, and will actually accelerate the player development process.
Research has always exposed the benefits of inner-motivation and self drive (intrinsic motivation) as the vehicle to maximize player development. As opposed to being motivated through rewards and avoiding punishment (extrinsic motivation), athletes experience better long-term development success when the desire is to become competent and self-determining. To get the most out of practices and competition, players must learn how to best motivate themselves to train, perform, compete, and manage adversity. For most intrinsically motivated players, their focus is on skill development and continuous improvement, not on contest outcomes or negative consequences. They are usually self-starters that experience consistency in practices and games. Taking ownership of one’s effort and developing self-drive is critical to learning and harnessing intrinsic motivation.
The coaching culture in Finland places a great emphasis on an athlete’s self drive and their perceptions of ownership, and the results are proven. By giving athletes the ability to be creative and learn to make decisions without relying on over-reaching adult directives, they better learn skills and conceptual awareness. During practices coaches should design drills with a purpose that keeps the players moving and solving problems. The days of spending precious practice time on the ice with young teams walking through a robotic breakout, defensive zone coverage, or power plays should be left in the past. Although spending time prepping for competition may provide some short-term competitive success, this time has shown to hinder long-term developmental success. Research has proven that creating practices that encourage creativity and fun has a much stronger impact on long-term development compared to spending time on the ice teaching the game robotically with rote X’s and O’s training.
The upcoming Players Decide initiative (December 12-18) that began recently in Finland provides a shining example how an entire country is promoting research proven methods. Specifically during Players Decide week, Finnish hockey and many other sport clubs commit to giving their players complete ownership of player development planning and execution. Throughout the week, athletes are tasked to create and execute practice and games plans, while Coaches guide and support the process. Not only will players gain a better understanding about the intricacies and challenges of planning, coaches should have an opportunity to learn what their players consider fun.
This season, the list of sport clubs participating in the Players Decide awareness initiative has expanded to include clubs from Switzerland, Germany, and Aspen Junior Hockey (AJH) in North America. AJH Executive Director Shaun Hathaway looks forward to the opportunity. “We are on a list of some extremely impressive international sport clubs participating in an exercise that has been proven to have positive results in players development. As a small youth hockey association in Colorado, we are humbled and excited to join FIHA and others in the Players Decide initiative.”
Article posted with permission from Mr. Hathaway and Aspen Junior Hockey.