Thursday, 22 January 2015 19:52

Hockey Canada working to prevent burnout among kids

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“One of the worst things to happen to the game, in my opinion, has been year-round hockey and, in particular, summer hockey. All it does for kids, as far as I can tell, is keep them out of sports they should be doing in the warmer weather.”

 — Wayne Gretzky to the National Post in 2000

In an age where hockey development has turned into an arms race, where keeping up with the Jones’ often becomes a year-round pursuit on rinks across Canada, the burnout level among kids playing the game is palpable.

That’s a challenge that Hockey Canada has directly taken on.

“There’s no doubt it happens and I think that happens in any sport when it’s too much,” explained Corey McNabb, Hockey Canada’s senior manager of coach and player development. “I always try to relate it to parents like a new video game at Christmas time. They’ll play it every day for three months and they’re done. They’re bored with it.”

So the parent organization for the sport in Canada is encouraging kids to take a break.

“It’s been our philosophy all along is summer time is a time to play other sports,” said McNabb, pointing to the conclusion of Hockey Canada’s long-term athlete development program. “Play soccer, play golf, play lacrosse, play whatever … At the end of the day, we believe the best hockey players are the best athletes.

“Get kids out of the rink, let them have fun, let them be kids. As much as parents will say ‘my son or daughter wants to be in the rink every day and all year round.’ They do now, but after four of five years of that, it’s not always the case. They do need the break, so they come back to hockey and they’re refreshed.”

McNabb noted the challenge is also working with elite bantam and midget leagues to prevent burnout among top young prospects during the season. He points to intense scheduling at the AAA levels, which often build toward NHL style playoff formats.

“We’ve talked about, ‘why not put a break in the season — one in the first half at the end of November and one in February?’ … a week off here and a week off there is not going to hurt anybody,” he said.

“The benefits out of that are going to be far greater because one of the problems we see now … at the elite or high-calibre level is they’re in such a hurry to get the season started and then they play all these games, all these practices because the playoffs start early.

“It’s an adult system imposed on kids and really for no other reason than ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ ”

Not that it’s broken. Canada is still producing some of the best players in the world. But for every kid off to play junior, college or pro, there’s a bunch who burned out in their teens.

“Let’s look at how we’re scheduling,” urged McNabb. “(With changes) there’s going to be more practices, more development and, in many cases, the same number of games, they’re just organized in a different fashion.”

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