As the world’s greatest tennis players dueled at the U.S. Open, Martin Blackman had a message for the next generation:
“In the future, you’re not going to be able to be a single-sport athlete and compete at the top level. The athleticism required is going through the roof and there’s no way the necessary speed, agility and explosiveness can be developed through tennis alone.”
The United States Tennis Association’s player development expert was one of many who convened yesterday for an Aspen Institute Project Play roundtable at Arthur Ashe Stadium to discuss the importance of multi-sport participation. USA Hockey’s Ken Martel and New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh were also there, as were representatives from a large cross-section of American sports including Major League Baseball, U.S. Soccer, ESPN, NBC Sports and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“The stats tell us that only one in three American kids between ages 6 and 17 are physically active every day,” said Martel. “That’s a frightening indicator for our future health. And among the kids who are active, if they’re specializing early, they’re opening themselves up to a different set of problems – increased injury risk, burnout and limited overall athletic development. So with Project Play, we’re looking for solutions that get more kids active and keep them active, in multiple sports, so they can be healthy, have fun and reach their full potential.”
USA Hockey has been a leader in that effort through its American Development Model, which encourages multiple-sport participation.
“Well-rounded athletes make better hockey players,” said Martel. “The physical and mental strengths kids develop by playing a variety of sports give them an edge, especially in the long term.”
To help ensure that kids have an opportunity to gain that edge, USA Hockey recommends playing different sports in the offseason (though there’s nothing wrong with including a great summer hockey camp experience in that mix) and structuring an in-season hockey calendar with age-appropriate formal ice-session limits (not to be confused with kid-initiated informal hockey play, which should be encouraged without limits).
In the 8U classification, those in-season guidelines include 50-60 formal ice sessions. At 10U, the count increases to approximately 100 in-season ice sessions, 80 of which should be quality practices. The 12U calendar is similar to 10U, but with a slight increase in ice sessions. Not until 14U/16U should players begin embarking on a nine-month training calendar, and even then, it should include an ample off-ice training regimen and no more than 160 ice sessions. At 18U, as players finally enter the training-to-win phase, the count climbs to 200 ice sessions mixed with age-appropriate off-ice training over a 10-month calendar.