Friday, May 30, 2014

Keeping Hockey Kids in Shape Off-Season

    After the long, cold, hectic season, who isn't ready for a break to warm up and rest weary bones? While we all enjoy a little time away from the ice, no hockey parent wants their kid to melt into an out of shape summer slug. Christopher Costa, owner and operator of Philadelphia based Assist Performance, is here to assist. He has lots of advice on keeping our hockey kids fit,  while helping them to develop a wider array of movement and sports skills. All good, but let's also not forget the many benefits of free, imaginative, kid-directed play. Just think back to those happy, fun and carefree summer days of hide and seek, house, tag and red rover, red rover. It's not your imagination; many studies have shown the serious need for simple play!
Give It A Rest
     I suggest to all of my athletes, youth to college age, to take some time for themselves. Ideally,  2-3 weeks to basically remove yourself from the game. That includes mental relaxation and possibly injury healing. During that time, focus all energy on things that you enjoy outside the game, like golf, soccer, lacrosse or swimming. These sports will keep your athletic abilities sharp and give you time to develop a new focus.
   Once your energy stores have returned and injuries are healed, then off-season training should become priority. For the young guys and girls, the focus should be on non-weight bearing exercises that are sports-specific movements in hockey. While there will be no weight introduced, the Squirts and Pee Wees can work on building what we call neuromuscular adaptations through learning proper movement form. Speed and agility can be taught through fun, off-ice drills. Having a S&C Coach can help ensure proper form and function, while also preventing injury. 
    For the 14-16 year old group, hopefully, you've been following the above suggestions for a couple of years. Building a solid foundation for movement patterns is key toward preventing injuries. Now, you can add resistance to the movement patterns. Starting slowly is important here, as well. The muscles have developed through a process of neuromuscular adaptations, and the next step is to focus on hypertrophy (growth), speed, agility and power.

Fitness With Focus    
     The focus areas for proper off-season training is dependent upon three factors: age, sex and dysfunction. The dysfunction is a very broad term, because each athlete is different. Some may be fast, while others are slow but strong. I'm sure you've seen this in every team. In order to develop a well thought plan, you need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, parents, friends and coaches what they think your biggest weaknesses are. Make a list and rank them. Then, develop a focused program based on addressing those weaknesses during the entire training season.
Weighing the Weight Lifting Option
   I'm going out on a limb here and say, "be very selective." What I mean is, hire a STRENGTH coach that has experience with hockey players, namely specific for your child's age. Be sure to ask whether your coach of choice is well educated with hopefully a college degree based on kinesiology, exercise science or physiology. That will ensure that they possess knowledge in the entire physiological process. This will ensure that you are getting the best service and attention to detail.     
    Kids are at greater risk for injury because they have yet to be taught proper form.Without proper form, injury risk is high. A Strength Coach can teach your athlete the step by step process to develop safe, effective form.
    Training can begin as soon as your athlete has the right mindset. However, it is bet to avoid ALL resistance or weight bearing exercises prior to puberty. Once the onset of hormonal response has kicked in, athletes can begin to slowly introduce weights into the training protocol. since puberty onset can not be nailed to a specific age, it is best to wait until clear signs are apparent.

The Need for Speed  
     Fortunately, speed development can begin from a technical standpoint at a very young age. On-ice training can occur once players are competitive skaters. Drills such as 18m sprints ( blue line to blue line) are good methods to develop speed and cardiovascular endurance. 
  Off-ice drills can include ladders, sprints and plyometric exercises. Those type of movements develop speed and agility, while also developing explosive power in mature skaters.

How Much Hockey is Too Much Hockey?

    Sports burnout is real. Parents have a tendency to push their kids to be the best athletes. However, that push is referred to as over-reaching. This results in mental, physical and emotional fatigue that can be detrimental, both on and off the ice.
    Encouraging your kids to be active is the most important factor. If they are enjoying themselves, then your goal is fulfilled. Skills developed through other sports can translate to better performance on the ice. It prevents burnout and inspires a new level of focus. Who knows, maybe they'll love the other sports more? As parents, you need to realize that's okay! Restricting your child to hockey, may not be the best recipe for creating a passionate hockey player.
   If they want to play year-round and show little to no signs of burnout, then there should be no cause for concern. Suggesting other sports is a great idea. Just don't force it.

Got a question for Chris? Shoot away. Post one and he'll be happy to answer.

Christopher Costa owns and operates Assist Performance, based in Philadelphia, Pa. aP takes strength & conditioning to the next level, and specializes in ice hockey and golf. He previously interned with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2013-2014 season. Chris is slated to spend some time this summer under the New York Islanders organization.

Twenty-two years of ice hockey experience has allowed Chris to develop the talent, necessary education, and a forward thinking process that is sure to enhance athletic potential. If you or your child are interested in NCAA Division 1, Tier 1 Junior A, Major Junior, or simply strive to be the best in your league, please visit

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

5 Myths about Playing "Elite" Travel

    I had the pleasure of connecting with V.J. Stanley, author of an eye opening book called Stop the Tsunami in Youth Sports and representative of  sport consulting service,  The Frozen Shorts Training Method. He's in demand as a guest speaker and has penned some insightful articles including the 5 Myths of Playing Elite Travel. Check out his blog and check out his views.

5       Myths about playing “ELITE” travel youth sports:
       by V.J. Stanley

 The Money Myth
           Because you pay a lot of money, you believe your child’s athletic ability   has a quantitative value. Oh boy! I have heard this comment in many forms over and over. People brag about how much money they have spent on their child’s youth sports experience. I have heard parents brag/complain about how whipped they are from the brutal schedule their child has in youth sports and how far they had to travel in separate cars last weekend. Parents bragging about how many times they have visited their child’s Orthopedic surgeon or personal trainer. I have heard parents say “they got cut” from a team “My son signed his first contract to play junior hockey.  (Even though they paid $10,000 to play on that team).  I have seen children go play on an “elite academy team” with their families paying thousands of dollars and bragging about it only to hear that they regretted the decision when no scholarship offered ever appears.
      There is no correlation to the money you spend on your child’s athletic “elite” travel team and their ability to play at a higher level. You can’t buy talent. If this was true, how do poor kids reach their athletic peak? Think of this example. Your child has a cold. You take her to the Pediatrician and they give you a prescription for some medicine. You are done. You are not sent to a specialist and pay more money are you? You go to a specialist to get special results.  It’s just a common cold for a common child. What if this is not a special situation? You would be spending and wasting money needlessly. Then wouldn’t you get frustrated when you did not get special results? Over and over again we hear the disappointment in the end game of this monetary path. The money spent far outweighs the money the families receive in scholarship. There is a tangible hangover to this paradigm. We see it every day.
    On our website we have a form to fill out that will tell you what it cost per hour for your child to play elite travel sports for a weekend. The cost, about $230.000 an hour should amaze you!

The One Sport Edge Myth 
 Your child should play one sport year round to get an athletic scholarship. One sport year round is needed to make your child a better athlete. Really? Let’s take a look at the reasons this is happening. There are many many children playing one sport year round. It certainly is a paradigm that has taken hold and grown over the last thirty years.  More and more youth sports organizations, including USA Soccer, adhere to this policy of having children commit to this level of participation. They actually ask for the family to submit a calendar of their “outside” activities and make sure that the parents know that their child, if he or she does not want to fall behind, needs to make this commitment to a year round “training” program. It is also inferred by some of these coaches that failure to make this level of commitment will cause the child to be benched. Interestingly though, it is never the star player that receives this sort of demand. Excuses are commonly made for this player.
      “Mandatory” camps are held during the “off” season. While not being     exactly mandatory, it is made clear you better attend if you want to keep your spot. Families are told that the team must stay together and play together if they want to win.  It becomes a partnership with the parents and the children, a “lifestyle” I am told.
I would much rather be home, with a home cooked meal. My family eats together 6 times a week and I am confident it is a major reason we are such a close knit family. Plus it would save a lot of money.
      Let's insert an interesting fact hare. ALMOST all these teams and organizations speak this mantra and yet many of them don’t win as much as they would lead you to believe with the importance they put on winning. Oh sure if you play enough games, go to enough tournaments you will eventually win or get “close,” thus providing the impetus to play fewer kids and to go out and recruit better players. Few parents realize when this is happening that their child may be losing playing time to the new kid. AND this new kid, the new “chosen one” comes in and is given  ‘cart blanch” and special treatment by the coach on many occasions, thus undermining the team concept and the mantra that we must stick together and play together.
Sometimes I hear that the parents allow this because the children really “love” the sport and the parents are letting their children “take this as far as they can.”  I LOVE ice cream. But I can’t eat it every day, it’s not healthy for me.) Other times I hear that the “pros” do it this way so should I. The   athletic scholarship mantra is repeated where this child got a scholarship playing one sport year round. My kid is as good or close so why not, more is better. BUT IS IT? Let’s look at the science, psychology and data.  First there are two to eight times more injuries for those who play one sport year round. Health, according to Dr. James Andrews considered being the TOP Orthopeadic sports surgeon in the country says the most important thing for an athlete’s success at each level, is their health. Next, children change their mind all the time. So having them do something, anything year round, is against their nature and will begin to wear on them and they won’t continue to grow and benefit. It’s called the law of diminishing returns. That may initially want to play the sport year round. They may even enjoy it. But soon, it will wear on them. They are kids, and kids want to do different things. They will continue on to please their parents and avoid the stigma of quitting, but then injurious start to pop up and their bodies and minds tell them that they need rest and soon you have a child not having any fun.
     Lastly the drive for athletic scholarships or a pro career is not dependent on one sport year round according to professional teams. The Minnesota twins look for multi sport athletes. Their top prospect, Byron Buxton, and the #1 prospect in ALL of minor league baseball was a basketball star in high school also. Three out of the four quarterbacks in this 2013 AFC and NFC championship game were drafted by MLB teams. And Peyton Manning, the one quarterback who wasn’t drafted, played shortstop in high school through his senior year and continued to play baseball in the summer. Ryan Callahan, captain of the New York Rangers played soccer growing up and advocates time away from hockey in an interview with me at Brian Gionta, captain of the Montreal Canadiens takes three months off from skating after every season. See his interview also, at
      Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Abby Wambach, considered to be the top female soccer player in the world, was a high school basketball star. Besides, doing something year round for 20 hours a week is considered a job.
The Elite or Bust Myth
 Your team and the kids who play on that team benefit by playing other “elite” teams more than playing recreation level. Now there are some truly elite teams. The national team, a major junior team, etc. I believe that a truly elite team should be sending most if not all of its players to a Division 1 program. I have watched over 200 of the so called “elite” teams play and to say that it is much better than a recreational team is true in most cases, but hardly fits the definition of elite.
     Let’s be clear here. Most teams are only elite because someone put a title on it. In fact most elite teams consist of a group of kids whose parents agreed to pay an outrageous fee for your participation on this team. The members of this team were picked from a pool of participants that excluded anyone who could not afford to pay the fee and or did not want to give up everything else they were doing in that time frame to play on this team. The league in which you play has the same criteria as you do. In these criteria there is no way you can expect true elite completion.
     Most recreation level youth sports are not as good as “elite” level because of desire. I have watched many of them, well over a 100, and I can say that just like elite there are a couple of kids who stand out, a couple that aren't very good and the rest are about the same talent level. You could certainly make a case that you could switch some kids from either team and not see much of a difference in either teams play.
     Being around children we all know that they change their minds all the time, daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute in what they want to do. In this case, pushing a child to play on a team they don’t want to inhibit their fun and quality of participation. I have seen on many teams, before, during, and after games a disgust, lack of enthusiasm, and disinterest from many children being pushed to play at this so called elite level.
 Also, since children don’t fully develop physically until they are in their early to mid twenties, and mentally even a bit later. However, and research is starting to come out , that being a great teammate far outweighs the advantage or perceived advantage of playing with a group of kids whose parents “paid to play.” I have talked to many kids who passed up playing foe their high school and I will tell you that most. Publicly, say they wouldn’t change what they did. But behind the scenes, and in  growing numbers, kids are either being asked to play, and say no, are going back to their high school teams, and quietly to, some family and close friends are regretting their decision to play elite sports.
           You see, there are only so many spots on college teams and they are getting filled by a global pool of talent. This talent comes from all sorts of places and teams. While it is true that some college coaches only recruit form the pedigree tree, many are looking for multi sport athletes, that are really great teammates and high quality character people first and foremost.
The Showcase Scholarship Myth
     Showcases are a big step towards your scholarship goal. Here is my definition of a showcase. An elite, truly elite, program sends out specific individual invitations for you to attend. The event is only for children above the age of 15. The coaches just let the kids play, minimal instruction. The parents of these children playing pay a nominal fee. The showcase is not there for the main purpose of funding a team, program, or organization.
     I understand that college coaches sometimes get paid a fee to attend these showcases. They also get an advantage watching a lot of kids in a short time. They can only attend these showcases at certain times of the year according to the NCAA. Because of the plethora of these money making showcases, there is a watered down aspect starts to arise at these showcases. Many may not have the talent you think there is. Lastly, in some cases, kids go to these showcases, tired, not at their peak and try to impress the college scouts with their “stuff” and they can get injured. 80% of a college coach’s job is  recruiting. If you have talent we will find you. It’s our job and we like our job, a lot. We want to find you when another coach can’t. Let me relate to you the last showcase I went to for my 15 year old son. We traveled six hours by car to Virginia. He played four games against the same level of competition that he normally played against in his ‘elite” travel league.
     After the first game when everyone was headed back to the hotel I told my wife I was going to hang around for awhile. I watched every team I could get to, a total of about 600 kids. I saw two children that I considered to be D1 material. So, in essence, the other 598 families were paying for these two kids to be seen. I then went and found the person running the tournament. I told him I was a college hockey coach and would like to meet some of the other college coaches there scouting. He immediately asked me to sign in. There were six other coaches on the list and I did not recognize
any D1 schools.  He played in four games against four teams with about the same scores as there was in his normal league. We paid $600.00 to go to Virginia and sit and watch soccer for the weekend. I understand that some people refer to this as their social lives and have and maintain friendships after the children stop playing. But the point of this article is this was supposed to be a showcase for college coaches and perspective student athletes for college bound children. It was not. It was the last showcase we went to. As a side to this story it was also the last season my son played travel soccer, and he still played and started for his high school team his senior year.