Hockey -- too much of a good thing?
Rochelle Wallace has seen it often. A young player in the early years of development hits the ice almost every day of the week for practices, games and skills camps.
But instead of landing that coveted pro hockey career, the exact opposite normally happens.
"A lot of those kids finish off their peewee [year], and that's all they play," she said, adding that the kids get burnt out, sick of hockey, and fall out of the game altogether.
There can be too much of a good thing, even in the world of minor hockey, and Wallace, among others, thinks some kids are spending too much time at the rink.
"I think they do, I think some kids don't know if they like it or not, especially at the younger ages," said hockey mom and president of the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association.
Some doctors agree with her. Though they say there's no specific formula, any one activity that severely limits younger kids' participation in other things is not good for their development.
"When you see kids between eight and 11 or 12 playing hockey several times a week, how much breadth of exposure are they getting to other activities?" said Gretchen Kerr, associate dean of the faculty of physical education and health at the University of Toronto, and an expert in sports psychology.
Broad range of activities
"They should experience a broad range of activities," she said. "The general thinking is to wait until adolescence until specializing.
"The best example in hockey is Wayne Gretzky," Kerr added. "He didn't specialize in hockey until he was in his teens. Before that he played baseball, soccer and did a variety of things."
She says parents have to be aware that it's in the best interest of their child to keep them involved in activities along with hockey.
"It's often the parents who come with the goals of creating an NHL player," she said. "They're either not aware that a breadth of exposure to sports is the best thing for their kids, or they think that if they want to develop talent in hockey you've got to get your kid in early and you've got to play a lot of it."
It's something the VMHA president has seen a lot of in her time at the rink.
"We talk to some parents, you sort of walk away going, 'Yikes, I think they've lost focus here,' because they've put all their eggs in one basket," Wallace said. "(And the child) might quit hockey or lose it and go the way you don't want them to because they're feeling too much pressure."
Having a son who is on the ice 10 times a week, Wallace sometimes wonders if it's too much for him, even though he's in bantam.
"I honestly at one point thought, 'Oh my God, his gear never dries out,'" she said. "I thought, 'That is too much hockey,' when his skates are wet, but he's at this stage where he can make the choice to do that.
"I've always said to him, 'When you don't want to do this much hockey, let us know.'"
And she did make the decision to pull him back when he was younger, when she recognized he wasn't having fun.
"I remember when my son said to us about four years ago, when somebody wanted him to come out because they were short players and he was playing lacrosse too, and he said "I can't do it, it's too much,'" Wallace said. "And it was like, 'OK, pull back right away, you don't have to. If you don't want to, don't do it.'
"I think sometimes kids don't have the voice to say that," she added. "They just have to get up and go."
Kids getting 'run down'
There is also a physical toll that too much hockey can put on young players.
"If you're pushing kids so far that they're missing a lot of days of school, because they're sick, they're stressed out, they're always run down, they're always getting colds, and if they've got all of these increases in sprains and injuries, that's probably a sure sign that they're doing too much," said Cameron Blimkie, a professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, who specializes in exercise and its effects on kids.
"If you're constantly playing, you're not getting the rest that the systems need to recover from minor injuries that occur," he said. "And that might expose you to bigger concerns down the road."
Blimkie also agrees with University of Toronto professor Kerr that a wide breadth of activities is the best way to help kids develop both mentally and physically.
"You develop a better rounded skill set, which may give you a better balance of health benefits," he said.
Balance is important to VMHA president Wallace-- since she sees so many kids focused solely on hockey, she makes sure to get her two kids that play the sport involved in other activities.
"For myself and my husband, it's very important," she said. "I want my kids to grow up to be healthy and well-rounded, and active for sure but it doesn't have to be hockey."
This is why she gets her son who plays bantam rep and daughter who plays peewee getting out and doing other things, like playing other sports in the spring, when the ice starts to melt.
For Joel Banks, head coach of the peewee AAA rep team in the Fredericton Minor Hockey Association in New Brunswick, communication is the key to helping sort out a busy schedule.
"As a team, when I put the information out to the parents and say 'Look, we got an extra game this weekend,' I actually ask them, because if they think it's too much, we won't go," he said. His team currently has two practices, a dryland session, and at least one game per week, along with fundraising commitments.
To keep his team interested, Banks comes up with different ideas, like assigning team-building homework to the players, and keeping hockey away from dryland sessions.
"It is a physical fitness part of it, but it also gives them a break from hockey," he said. "A lot of coaches for dryland would bring more hockey into it, for me this year I got them going to kickboxing, boxing and skipping, so it's actually away from the game of hockey, but it's still teaching them physical fitness."