Keeping Your Hockey Player Healthy in the Off Season

By Bradley Dunlap, MD

Summer is fast approaching. How do we keep our hockey players healthy throughout the “off-season” and get them ready for next fall? I put “off-season” in quotation marks because we know as hockey parents that the season where there is no hockey is becoming ever more elusive! There is concern about the increasing professionalization of youth sports which can contribute to players never having time away from their sport.

The summer, however is the perfect time to get away from the rink for a bit. Having your child’s day filled with other sports and activities can benefit them for a number of reasons. These benefits include developing other physical skills and abilities, avoiding overuse injuries and helping to decrease the rate of burnout. Maybe it is playing lacrosse or soccer where players can integrate attack strategies that are similar to hockey. Maybe it is baseball/softball, tennis or golf, all of which can improve hand-eye coordination. Maybe it is basketball, swimming or gymnastics which can improve overall strength, flexibility and athleticism. And it could be good old ball hockey in the driveway.

These activities can be organized or unorganized. If your child is able to choose the activity and enjoy it, they will still be developing their hockey skills, just in a different way. Perhaps most importantly, he or she will have fun along the way. Another benefit of choosing a different activity is the break they will be giving their bodies. Running, jumping and swimming all use and develop different muscles than skating which will help reduce the risk of overuse injury.

That does not necessarily mean they can never go to the rink. There are still countless summer skates, camps and drop-ins where they can still get on the ice now and again. But being on the ice four times a week in July after playing fall, winter and spring seasons is likely too much.

Even if you feel your child is an elite player and has a chance of playing at a higher level of hockey, there are a number of studies showing that branching out and playing multiple sports is potentially the best way to achieve that goal. A poster presented at the 2018 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Annual Meeting showed that a cross section of hockey players that made it to the professional and collegiate levels did not play hockey exclusively until the age of 14 on average1.

So, enjoy your summer! Encourage your children to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. Hopefully they will explore some activities and sports beyond the ice. When the fall season comes back around, they will be ready mentally and physically to get back to the game they love.
1Black et al, AAOS 2018

Bradley Dunlap, MD is a Sports Medicine Orthopaedic Surgeon at NorthShore University HealthSystem Orthopaedic Institute. He is a former college hockey player, coach and has served as a team physician with USA Hockey.

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