Anecdotal Observations of Youth Athletes Specializing Too Early

Over the last 8 years I’ve had the privelage of training some amazing athletes. Since beginning my career as a strength coach, many conversations have taken place regarding athletes specializing in a specifc sport at too early of an age. My primary role as a strength coach is to ensure that my athletes are in peak condition to perform their best at their next sporting event (practice or competition). I’m also a sport coach (ice hockey and mountain biking), so I also understand the importance of sport specific skill aquisition, but at age is this appropriate? Too many times I’ve had to teach kids how to move for everyday athletic endeavors (crawling, rolling, squatting, walking, then running). All of these fundamental movements have excellent carry over to sport specific skills, but they’re learned in the wrong order.

We have just answered the question: When can an athlete focus on sport specific skills? When they have learned the fundamental movement patterns efficiently.


Skating Efficiency

Let’s talk about conditioning for ice hockey, shall we? I want you to ask your self a couple questions about off ice conditioning: 1) Are you running your players endless? 2) Are they running at a steady pace? The answer should be “NO” to both questions. Here are two things you should be doing instead:

  1. Do right by your athletes by spending time working on skating efficiency. No matter how hard you run them off ice, if they can’t transfer the benefits of off ice conditioning to on ice performance via efficient skating, then it’s all for not. But if you train them off ice effectively, and team them to be efficient on ice then it’s a win win situation.
  2.  Off ice you should be focusing more on a fartlek style interval training. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s randomized interval training comprising of sprinting, running, and walking. Think about the sport in question, ice hockey, we sprint, glide, skate at a steady state for a moment.

Number should be a no brainer, simply stand around yelling at your athletes to sprint, run, or walk at various random intervals for 10 minutes, then let them rest for 5 minutes then repeat 2 more times. Be creative in those five minutes. However there is a dilemma with number 1! Are you qualified to teach your skaters how to skate efficiently? Having been a skating coach for 9 years, I’ve had the privilege of producing some phenomenal skaters. Most of my skaters have gone on to play AAA, high level prep school, and juniors back east. I’ve also spent lots of time undoing bad skating habits accumulated from years of bad skating instruction. If you have any doubts about what efficient skating looks like, then go talk to a figure skating coach. Yes, I’ve only played ice hockey, but I’ve had the same skating coach since I was 8 years old, Gary Visconti. The skating instruction I pass onto my skaters is a tradition. It’s that simple. If you want to discuss effective ways of creating efficient skaters, please feel free to contact me.