The State of Youth Hockey with Michael Boyle

The state of youth hockey is…in big trouble. Michael Boyle is widely regarded as the world’s authority on ice hockey strength and conditioning. His presentation on hockey player development at the Boston Hockey Summit was one that I truly believe EVERYONE involved in the game of hockey should see…probably twice.

Coach Boyle used a number of specific examples regarding athletes he’s worked with in the past that went on to play for an NCAA Division 1 team and/or professionally to support his argument. In my mind, this is the best evidence for any argument. Anyone can argue theory (many people, including myself, do), but nothing speaks louder than results. The main points from Coach Boyle’s talk were:

1) Early specialization (only playing hockey) inhibits development. Kids, especially those younger than 16, need to play multiple sports for several reasons. Playing different sports will incorporate a wider range of movement patterns, which will help prevent overuse injuries. As a quick side note, many of these overuse injuries don’t appear until AFTER hockey players are late in their high school years, but the foundation for these injuries is laid by ONLY playing hockey starting at a young age. Performing different athletic movements will also increase the number of movement strategies in an athletes’ “movement library”. This basically just means that hockey players’ bodies will be proficient at a larger number of movements, which could have implications for both performance and injury prevention. Mentally, playing different sports is refreshing. It’s the parent’s responsibility to keep their kids involved in multiple sports, even if the kid claims that they really enjoy playing hockey year round. Most kids would also prefer to eat ice cream and pizza for every meal, but that’s not good for them either.

2) In addition to playing multiple sports, the single best way to develop high level hockey players is to get them on a WELL-DESIGNED strength and conditioning (what I refer to as Athletic Development) program. A quality Athletic Development Coach can design and implement a balanced training program that will help young hockey players add muscle mass and functional strength. In addition to improving performance, a quality training program will also decrease injury risk.

The take home message boils down to: Young hockey players need to spend less time playing hockey and more time developing overall athleticism.

Not everyone has access to quality Athletic Development Coaches, and even people that do can’t always afford them. That was the biggest reason I put together my Off-Ice Training Course, so people without a background in strength and conditioning and exercise science could still put together quality programs.

Click here for more information on how to develop your own off-ice training program.

Kevin Neeld

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