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10 Ways to Boost Development This Offseason

By Jamie MacDonald, 05/16/17, 2:00PM EDT


Players who specialize in hockey too young may be setting a ceiling on their development.

In the eyes of Ken Martel, a man largely responsible for USA Hockey’s American Development Model implementation and operation, players who specialize in hockey too young may be setting a ceiling on their development.

Does USA Hockey love to see kids playing hockey: Absolutely.

Does USA Hockey think that’s all kids should be doing? Absolutely not.

In fact, USA Hockey prefers well-rounded athletes who aren't sport-limiting until their late teens. As such, the governing body encourages young athletes to play multiple sports – particularly at younger ages. 

In the eyes of Ken Martel, a man largely responsible for USA Hockey’s American Development Model implementation and operation, players who specialize in hockey too young may be setting a ceiling on their development.

“We’ll get kids who have spent a lot of time specializing in hockey, and, in the short run, it might make a difference – but, in the long run, their athleticism is really capped,” Martel says. “They're not growing as players, and you can see it. It's like they can't get any better.”

Martel, who as a player won an NCAA title with Lake Superior State and has worked as a coach and staff member at USA Hockey for a quarter century, is a firm believer in playing … anything.

“It matters less which sport,” Martel says. “We just want you to go and be more physically active. However, there are certain sports where you can definitely see transference.”


So many kids play soccer these days, and, in some ways, it’s the ultimate entry sport, beginning at ages 3 and 4 in many towns.

“They get agility and they get to learn tactics that are very similar to hockey,” Martel says. “How to support, how to create 2-on-1s and those types of things.”


While not many would associate hockey with tennis, the mostly outdoor racket sport certainly has application when it comes to the mostly indoor ice sport.

“Tennis is fantastic,” says Martel. “The lateral movement and the side-to-side explosiveness have a lot of transferability to what we need in ice hockey – for skating, it’s huge. And it’s about developing coordination and tracking.”


Swimming? Yes, swimming.

“Absolutely,” Martel says. “Swimming is fantastic. One, there’s obviously water safety for your kids. But there’s also ambidextrous movement – movement on both sides of your body. That's really, really good, to do things with your non-dominant side.”


One of the most side-dominant sports is golf, but, again, there is application.

“You see a lot of hockey players who are good golfers,” says Martel. “There's some weight transfer in the golf swing, and in your lower body. And there’s the striking skill. I know a lot of hockey players who are darn good golfers.”

Track and Field/Running

Not all running is created equally, and, for hockey players, not all running is good running.

“For our sport,” Martel says, “I would keep away from the distance running – it’s basically slow-twitch.”

Martel, along with so many strength and conditioning coaches, suggests picking up the pace for something more useful when it comes to hockey.

“Explosive sprinting would be good,” he says.

Flag Football

As flag football rises in popularity, Martel sees its merit.

“I would have kids play flag football all day long,” he says. “And it's a big push from USA Football. It's running, jumping and evasion skills – it’s all of the skill position type stuff. That will make you more productive as an athlete. Guys can transfer into football later on if they're good athletes because they can teach you some of the simpler movements.”


In Canada, it’s a pastime. Lacrosse is also a rapidly growing sport in some parts of this country, too.

“In Canada, it's box lacrosse,” says Martel. “In a lot of communities, the ice goes out in the offseason and they play lacrosse indoors. What I like about lacrosse is that you pick up the ball and you run with it, and you're trying to survey the field. With hockey and soccer, you tend to look down. That's where the ball or the puck is in those sports. Lacrosse is really good and helping our kids survey. But, there is also the agility and tactics.”  


Who would benefit from gymnastics?

“If I had my way, every kid that plays ice hockey,” Martel says. “Gymnastics is full of foundational skills movements for all sports. All that kinesthetic awareness and strength and agility and power. It's phenomenal.”

Martial Arts

Sports such as Taekwondo and karate can also be great for kids.

“It's body control, and it's movement skills,” says Martel. “It's control of your body. It's coordination. We've done some boxing, and it's more about the combination of upper-body and lower-body movement, and it’s about how to move your body efficiently.”

Anything to Get You Moving

There are dozens more athletics to get involved in, of course, including sports as structured as basketball or volleyball to something a little more casual, such as skiing or flying disk games. And all of them have something in common: For young hockey players, they’re worth trying.

“Do everything,” says Martel. “Kids are getting too sedentary. That’s the bottom line. And we see it when we go to a country like Finland, where they have a sporting lifestyle they cultivate. Part of it is culture.”

Oh, yes, and one more thing: Go outside.

"Ride your bike, play tag, go play kick the can in the neighborhood,” Martel says. “Those, in some ways, are even better than turning to another organized sport where everything is programmed. Let kids get out with the neighbors and sort something out. And it's not just physical skills. It's social skills, and it's how to cope in society.”

It’s also, perhaps counter-intuitively, about hockey.