Some of my favorite winter memories are of days spent playing hockey outside on the flooded rinks and frozen ponds of Minnesota.
Whether it was 30 degrees or -20, my friends and I were out playing the game that we loved. If it was snowing, we would shovel. Breaks were in the warming house where we would get on the pay phone and order a couple pizzas, then it was back out for another game. 1 vs 1, 3 vs 3, 6 vs 6, it didn’t matter, we were having the time of our lives and didn’t want it to end!
It’s hard to beat hockey outdoors. This is where the game was born. This is where kids improve their skill, creativity and hockey IQ without even knowing it! Where kids become dynamic players by expressing themselves in an unstructured environment. Talk to any great hockey player and they’ll tell you that they played outdoors as much as possible!
The hockey landscape these days is slightly different from when I was a youth player. Practices, games, individual on- ice skill sessions, dry-land strength training, off-ice skill work, skating treadmills, camps, elite leagues-much of it money driven. All this on top of school, after school activities and homework and there’s hardly any time left for FUN! I can tell you from experience that getting outside on that frozen rink with your friends is more FUN than most practices or dry land sessions will ever be.
What’s the result of all this extra hockey training? Players today are stronger, faster and highly skilled. Definitely a good thing! On the downside, kids have been drilled to death, from a young age, under the watchful eye of coaches and parents that they’ve become “do this..like this..in this situation..at full speed..all the time” type players. Almost robotic in nature. This might not be evident everywhere, but it is evident.
Am I being over critical? Maybe so, but hockey is in my blood and aside from wanting all players to have success in the sport, I’d like for kids to have a chance to develop at their own rate. To play without being told where to be and what to do. To fail on their own and learn to become resilient on their own. All in an effort to develop a well-rounded player. I believe “pond hockey” is a great tool to allow this.
What can we do?
KIDS: In the winter, get outside on the frozen rinks and play! This is the time to be creative and think “outside the box.” Start developing your own unique bag of tricks and technical plays. Learn how to read the game and slow the pace down or speed it up when necessary. Don’t forget the pizza break! If it doesn’t get cold enough where you live, play some street hockey.
COACHES: Obviously structure and systems are a part of hockey but try to work in as many small area games as possible, especially for mites and squirts. This will serve to mimic the environment that pond hockey creates. Also, resist the urge to over coach. There’s nothing I disliked more than hearing a coach yelling at me to shoot or pass while I carried the puck up the ice during practice.
PARENTS: Don’t be afraid to let your son or daughter skip dry land training so they can head to the flooded rink. My friends and I used to grab dinner after a weekday practice and then head right to the outdoor rink! There was no post practice dry land. I understand that there are a lot of options out there for hockey training and it’s hard to keep a child out of an activity that everyone is doing. Just remember that more isn’t always better.
Our young kids deserve the chance to become unique, dynamic, artistic players. Let’s let them by incorporating more “Pond Hockey” style training!