Motivation and development of the young player

Motivation and development of the young player

We all remember the young girl who perished by her father’s side recently while attempting to become the youngest pilot ever to make a transcontinental “solo” flight. During the aftermath, many were outraged that her parents encouraged her to even try such a feat at such a young age.

It can be difficult for players and parents to know at what point motivation strays over into the tricky area of child endangerment. Hockey, with all of its complexities, has many gray areas when it comes to learning skills, so parents who wish to become involved in the development of their child’s game would do well to know at what age any given skill should be expected from their young champ.

The Developmental Guidelines that accompany this column highlight age categories as defined by USA Hockey, and how these categories correspond to projected developmental growth and level of skill. Remember that these are average values; your child may deviate slightly from the “norm.” But wherever your child fits on the developmental scale, it’s best to remember that hockey is a very difficult sport.

“Hockey can be so complex that it’s hard to teach kids, says Tony Hernandez, a Certified USA Hockey instructor with 25 years playing experience who teaches at Rollerplex/Iceoplex in North Hills, CA. “Teaching them where to be in any given situation is something that takes time to develop. Even for adult players it takes time and it’s hard.”

Carefully considering where the young player’s body is in it’s physical development is another important aspect of responsible coaching or parenting. If a young player is encouraged to begin strength training at a premature age, for example, the effects are almost always negative.

Sometimes giving a young player time is simply more important than any other kind of encouragement or support.

“You have to know the game [to excel],” says Hernandez. “It has to become like a second nature to you. A lot of learning the game is mental; you have to learn the game, and learn to play on instinct.”


Physical nourishment, too


Motivation and development of the young player

Motivation and development of the young player

The emotional nourishment fed to your young champ can be well supplemented with the physical nourishment needed to fuel his or her game. The consequences of improper diet are more serious for younger athletes than they are for adults. If adults don’t get enough to eat, they may feel weak and fatigued, but prepubescent children suffer greater consequences: inadequate nutrition can delay development and stunt growth.

Research has shown that children expend more energy than adults when participating in similar activities, burning—and thus needing to supplement—far more calories.

Parents would do well to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads and natural juices, so their young champs can develop good eating patterns at home. Quick, healthy snacks are a handy alternative to junk food for adolescents who have difficulty fitting a square meal into a schedule packed with school work, hockey and friends.

Children are also more susceptible to dehydration, heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses than are adults, because kids perspire less, but produce more heat (by expending all that energy). They can adjust for the increased amount of environmental heat brought by the long summer days by making the following adjustments, which are based on recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Pediatric Society.

  • Whenever humidity and air temperature are excessive, and the activity lasts 30 minutes or more, the intensity of exercise should be reduced.
  • Clothing should be lightweight and limited to one layer of absorbent material (if possible), such as cotton . This helps with the evaporation of sweat. Saturated garments should be replaced by dry ones ASAP.
  • Drink 6-20 ounces of cool fluids (refrigerator temperature), 10-20 minutes prior to competition or exercise, and then 4-6 ounces every 10-20 minutes during the game or workout. Have fluids readily available at the bench. Your thirst mechanism begins to fail when you lose large volumes of water, and you may need to be reminded to drink.
  • After playing, replenish your system with at least one pint of water, watered down juice, or watered down electrolyte fluid for every pound you have lost during play. Drinking high concentrations of sugar actually retards your body’s ability to absorb water, so don’t forget to water down anything that is high in sucrose or fructose.

Because hockey is such a fun sport, it is easier for children to want to stay involved in a consistent, regular exercise program. They think of it simply as fun, rather than as managing their health and weight.

The personalities and bodies of younger athletes are still forming, so the best thing a parent or coach can give them is encouragement, positive reinforcement and proper nourishment.


Pavel Horak