Colorado Rubber

Colorado’s and Utah’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

Chalk Talk: Player development includes following all the recent research


shaun squirtsHockey 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 and 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.

Multi-sport lifestyle

Numerous studies have provided research indicating 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. In recent studies around the world, benefits of early sport specialization have only shown evidence in gymnastics and some evidence for diving and figure skating. Conversely, the benefits of multi-sport participation include (among others) improvement in skills and ability, increased motivation, better decision-making, stronger pattern recognition skills and higher levels of creativity

A multi-sport lifestyle is an active lifestyle. During a week, a youth athlete has 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 multi-sport on their own
• 10U – 14U: 8-10 hours run by club, 10 – 12 multi-sport on their own
• 15U – 19U: 10-15 hours run by club, 5 – 10 hours multi-sport on their own

The multi-sport activities during a sport season include any type of non-structured (self-motivated) sport: skiing, biking, hiking, walking, running, playing tag, and much more. At young ages, supplemental private lessons and extra practice time run by adults should not be included in multi-sport activities. Like a properly run off-ice training program, engaging in other activities that use different muscle groups and enhance agility, balance and coordination can 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. Intrinsically-motivated players 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 Finnish results are proven. By giving athletes the ability to be creative and learn to make decisions without over-reaching adult directives, they better learn skills and conceptual awareness. The days of spending precious practice time on the ice with long lines and robotic drills should be over. During practices, coaches should design drills with a purpose that keeps the players moving and solving problems. Practices that encourage creativity, free movement, and fun have a much stronger impact on long-term development compared to spending time on the ice teaching the game robotically through rote x’s and o’s training.

Shaun Hathaway is the executive director for Aspen Junior Hockey.

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