I read a good article about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the grassroots hockey experience in The Hockey News. Unfortunately, the article is only available to subscribers. The author, Ken Campbell, offers tips on ‘Making the Best of a Bad Year’ (the article’s title). I think his recommendations work for all youth sports, not just hockey. Coaches who have relationships with their teams – something that comes with having a philosophy and style where children and parents ask to play with you season after season – can encourage their athletes to “push the reset button this season” by using this time for personal development and taking a break.
Personal Development Players can use the time away from structured practices and games to work on skills and personal development. Many drills that coaches teach players and employ in practice can be done at home alone. In fact, as a coach, I suggest working out at home as a primary means of improving skills. Players can find drills on the internet – many with videos that show how to do them properly. Campbell quotes a youth hockey coach who says
It will be very interesting to see how players have developed during this. Have they taken this time to develop and become 20 percent better?– John Winstanley in December 2020 issue of Hockey News
Getting a Break There has been much written and said about the concerns of youth sports specialization (even I’ve written about it). Campbell highlights that not having spring or summer hockey offered the children the kind of balance “that many in hockey development would like to see young players achieve”. Some youth athletes have been on the court, field, or ice almost nonstop for a long period of time. Not having organized sports activities gives them “the opportunity to get a bit of a break and play some other sports and try some other outdoor activities” like bike riding or skateboarding. Campbell also suggests that for some of the older youth athletes, this time off could provide time for their bodies to rest and recover.
Interestingly, Campbell captures a situation that can be well-meaning, but extreme. Specifically, he writes:
“Some youth-hockey associations are requiring parents to only drop their children off at the rink – they’re not allowed to come inside”.– Ken Campbell in December 2020 issue of Hockey News
I am sure, as opposed to the satirical comic above, this restriction is in the name of minimizing social contact and the spread of the virus. Campbell captures one hockey development manager’s belief that not having parents in the arena would be like kids playing at the park on their own – there’s more freedom. Admittedly, “not having parents constantly hovering over the youth-hockey experience can be a good thing”, but as I have previously suggested, it is an extreme position. Seeing as “the vast majority of parents of young players are reasonable and have good perspective”, the right thing to do when the world situation gets back closer to normal is to allow parents to enjoy attending their children’s sports activities It’s up to the league administrators, officials, coaches, and other parents to make sure that those who are unreasonable are counseled to behave or asked to leave.
All in all, I appreciate a professional sports magazine speaking to the youth sports experience. Kudos to The Hockey News for providing guidance and insight to hockey fans who might have children who play youth sports. For coaches out there; hang in there. In addition to this advice, there are other recommendations for coaching during the pandemic here.