The importance of developing general movement skills in the career of a young hockey player

The importance of developing general movement skills in the career of a young hockey player

It is said that, in order for a person to achieve mastery in the activity they perform, they need to devote 10,000 hours of time to it. The worst possible scenario is when the child reaches the 10,000 hours before turning 15. We call this “too early specialization.”

Such an athlete reaches the peak of their career at the age of 15 and then their progress stagnates or their performance drops rapidly. Due to this fact, the large number of chronic injuries that cut short an athlete’s career is not surprising. Insufficient diversification of movement activities is associated with insufficient development of neuromuscular skills, which has an impact on injury prevention and does not allow for the necessary rest during unilateral loads. In the end, this is how we create a system of producing less powerful athletes than in the past. A child’s performance goes down rapidly.

Children, who today we consider to be talents from sports classes, are statistically worse in terms of performance, or equal to the general population of children from 1987 (athletic disciplines, e.g. standing long jump or endurance disciplines). Also, we have just 20% of school-aged children involved in organized sports, which is a low number when compared to with the Nordic countries, where up to 80-90% of their children are involved in sports. In children, it is necessary to activate a positive emotion from movement. The application of progressive elements, which must be included in the movement training of children at a young age, can help us achieve this.

Physical literacy is at a low level, especially among children of preschool age and younger school age, where there is a lack of motor skills and an understanding of movement itself and its importance for health. Parents especially must understand this fact and lead their child to an active lifestyle, not only in school physical education, where 2 hours a week is very little, but also in free time by at least 1 hour a day.

Research has confirmed the positive impact of physical activity, strength training on all types of tissues of the human body - including our children's. Despite this, there is still a common trend that strength training is not suitable for children and children's bodies. However, the opposite is true - aspects of strength performance can also be developed in the form of various games, interesting exercises, where children have no idea that they are developing strength. It is the same with other motor skills. It just requires a suitable methodology for development, taste and critical thinking that needs to be offered to children.

Young athletes at the age of 15 are often just getting to know the gym, they do not know basic exercises,  technique and basic movement patterns. Strength training is postponed and by the age of 17-19 it is too late to catch up. This creates opportunities for injury.

The game performance of players is limited by the sufficient level of physical condition achieved, where we can include general and specific movement performance. The process of sports training is then about how to set their ratio correctly, across all age categories, as well as within the periodization of the annual training cycle. The development of general physical fitness, for example through appropriate strength training, also represents an increase in tissue capacity and the ability to adapt to stressors more quickly, which results in better handling of external loads. Of course, it is necessary to consider the child's current condition, not just their biological age but also their training age, and then choose an appropriate periodization and load volume based on this.

The training age can then be further divided into two categories:

  • the general training age, where the number of years that the child has spent engaging in physical activity (several sports) is assessed.
  • the sport-specific training age, where we look at the number of years that the child devotes only to that one given sport (specializes).

It is also important to mention a fact that usually happens, and that is the skipping of individual phases of movement development.

Often children outgrow their performance category and are moved to a higher age category where they can develop their talent. However, such “skipping” is contrary not only to the child's biological age, but also to their training age, which must be considered. It is necessary to look at this process comprehensively and to take psychological aspects into account. Realize that a child who is "shifted" in this way to achieve faster development of technical skills is excluded from the group of his peers and friends and thus loses one of the most important elements of training in childhood - playfulness and joy of play. This can result in a loss of motivation, a decrease in performance and development will not accelerate, on the contrary it will slow down. That is why we witness children who excel in their sport by progressing faster in their category, but their growth stopped at a certain moment, and they were outgrown by children whose development was gradual and systematic.

Therefore, it is important to have a vision for children participating in sports activities for a long time. We need to include them in more than one sport and encourage the "multiple-sports" model at a young age, while introducing them to ADEQUATE strength training. In this way, we lay the foundations for movement versatility, which they can draw on during training and specialization later in life. All that aside, we have to let kids be kids. A child is not a small adult, and a child's organism has its own specificities. These are, as I mentioned, chronological age, biological age, training age, psychological age, or sensitive periods of motor skills development.

Based on broad, science-based knowledge, as well as our own, exact data-based analyses, we strive to develop such methodical procedures that enable individuals as well as hockey teams to achieve mastery of hockey skills at the highest world level. We focus mainly on age categories of 15 years and above, although the usability of our technologies and know-how is also suitable for lower age categories, especially when teaching the correct technique of skating, taking into account the morphological characteristics of a specific individual, or the basic technical skills of working with a hockey stick and puck. The age category 15+, in view of sexual puberty, allows us to form specialized training load aimed at increasing the level of special movement performance in a much wider range and volume. Despite the fact that these are individualized forms of training, the perfect mastery of technical skills enables, with increasing age, the increasingly wider use of collective game forms of tactical focus, when already at this age it is also about establishing hockey teams in various domestic competitions or at the representative level.

Great emphasis must also be placed on the education of youth. Young athletes do not know what is suitable for them and what is not. They don't know what they can do, or what they can't do - some, in an effort to improve their performance, add extra training, which in the long run can lead to "overtraining" syndrome. Therefore, it is important to entrust children to experts who are familiar with the issue and can set an adequate regime that takes into account all age specific aspects and requirements.

Do not forget about regeneration, which is an integral part of physical development. People often look for different methods of regeneration, which are mainly based on marketing - from various regeneration modalities in the form of massage guns, rollers and other aids, while forgetting about the basic, natural and most effective forms of regeneration:

  • Sleep and rest
  • A balanced and nutritionally valuable diet
  • Adequate controlled physical load

Money invested in massage guns, rollers, etc. are often calculated in tens, hundreds of euros, which people are willing to pay. Instead, the option of investing in high-quality diagnostics, setting up a high-quality training or regeneration protocol is offered, which helps the child much more by setting a daily routine than those aforementioned modalities. We believe that more seminars or workshops on the topic of these relationships will create space for creative discussion.