Burnout and Other Concerns for Young Hockey Players

Here is an excerpt from an August 26, 2008 Globe and Mail article by Tralee Pearce where she discusses the burnout factor in sports.

Until last week, Oakville, Ont. hockey player Stefan Legein was a poster boy for youth hockey. After star turns with the Canadian junior team and a stint with the Ontario Hockey League, he was drafted in the second round by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets last year.

But last week, when the 19-year-old decided to call it quits on the eve of training camp, many observers wondered if youth hockey’s gruelling expectations might be to blame.

“Not getting a break from that high-pressure environment can lead to burnout,” says Scott Oakman, the executive director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

Coaches and sports administrators admit that the relentless pace exacts a price. “There’s been a big shift in philosophy. There’s much more year-round hockey taking place,” Mr. Oakman says. “That certainly lends itself to kids dropping out of the game earlier than historically they would have. They might be getting a lifetime’s worth of hockey in a shorter period of time.”

There’s no research to suggest that young kids who love their sport will risk burnout, says Joe Baker, an associate professor of kinesiology and sports health at York University. But with so much at stake, it’s no wonder some kids don’t speak up about not enjoying it…

Beyond the mental strain, there are also growing reports of injuries due to intense training in single sports in the past five years, according to Tony Reynolds of the U.S. International Youth Conditioning Association, which provides youth-specific training programs to coaches.

In sports such as hockey in which players are dominant on their left or right side, lower back and shoulder injuries are cropping up at younger ages. “It’s going to get worse,” he says. (Mr. Legein suffered a separated shoulder in a Christmas World Junior game last year.)…

In his 20-year experience, youth hockey coach Ron Sticklee says he has observed that it’s more often the parents with NHL stars in their eyes.

But even if a child is mentally and physically prepared for a hectic sports schedule, new research suggests throwing a kid’s sports eggs in one basket can make him a worse, not better, player. York’s Prof. Baker has been collecting data on athletes considered the “best of the best.”

“Some of the data we have shows they spent a lot more time playing at their sport in an unorganized way,” he says. Fewer rules and drills appears to promote a flexibility in the way kids think about problems on the court or rink.

From my experience more players that make it to the pro level truly have fun playing and competing. And, their parents understanding the importance of fun for the athlete. Rarely did the parent or athlete have an NHL-or-bust attitude.

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