Is summer hockey worth it?

For many minor hockey players, the sport is year-round, but some hockey experts say it may be best to take a break.

Some say playing the sport year-round is too much, others disagree

For many minor hockey players the season is now never-ending.

Richard Ropchan, the executive director of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, says that summer is the time for players to refocus and play a variety of other sports. 

"We'd like to see our kids do other things. It [summer hockey] might be good for some, but for others, I think it's important to get away from it," Ropchan says.

He says there are a lot of other sports that compliment a young hockey player's skill set such as soccer, lacrosse and baseball. These sports simulate the movements performed in hockey and keep children active.

According to Hockey Canada, 5 million Canadians are involved in hockey as coaches, players, officials, administrators or direct volunteers during the winter months.

Many see the summer as a great opportunity to improve skills, meet other players, and learn valuable life lessons.

Edmonton Oilers skating coach Steve Serdachny has instructed more than 100 NHL players — including Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester. He works for Hockey Canada and hosts the television show Hockey Academy.

He notes that during the regular season, a skater only plays a fraction of the game. Of that time on the ice, the player only engages in a small portion of the action and has the puck on their stick for an average of 15-20 seconds a game.

"From a development perspective, that's just not enough," Serdachny says.

In hindsight, he notes that for every player who uses the summer to continue honing his or her skills, there's an equal number of players that take it off.

"The development of any great hockey player has a balance of playing other sports," Serdachny says. "If you're going to play a high level of hockey, you'll need to develop and train in the off-season."

Creating a superstar

Many parents, however, follow the notion that extra ice time can only increase the odds of creating a player of superstar calibre.

Allan Hughes is the president of the Charlottetown Minor Hockey Association in P.E.I.

He says parents are misled on the issue and it's this mentality that creates the problems. As a result, "they often equate that success with winning rather than just having fun and the development of friendships and team spirit and the many other life lessons that go along with participating in a team sport," Hughes says.

Consequently, Hughes says that kids could suffer from burnout, which is unfortunate because the majority of kids began playing to have fun.

Kevin McLaughlin is the director of Hockey Opportunity Camp in Sundridge, Ont. He says social skills learned at camp build confidence and self-esteem that will last forever.

"The leagues most kids play in now are so competitive and ice-time is such a premium, that coaches are more apt to work on systems as opposed to skill development," McLaughlin says.

 "The biggest weakness in our minor hockey system is that it's too focused on wins and losses instead of skill progression."

Parental pressure

If kids do attend summer camps, they should want to be there and not feel obligated or pressured.

"Parents put their kids there and they don't have much interest," Ropchan says. "I don't think it provides an edge…the sport seems to be going a lot towards off-ice training."

Serdachny says that off-ice training programs can be valuable, as long as they meet the child's level of interest and skill level.

"Choose an off-ice school that will allow a player to develop skills to play at the highest level they can possibly play and excel," Serdachny says.   An Ontario Minor Hockey Association poll shows that 33 per cent of hockey players prefer golf, 17 per cent ball hockey, and 15 per cent prefer baseball during the off-season. 

McLaughlin says that ultimately finding balance in what's best for children is something all parents need to decide. For instance, if a young hockey player only focuses on that sport, and doesn't excel in it, he or she may realize they missed out on other opportunities.