Athletes, regardless of age or ability, need to include downtime and rest from their sport to perform at their best.
Angela Ruggiero is a case in point. A key member of the U.S. Women'sHockey Team for the past decade - during which time she has been part of four medal-winning Olympic teams, played on three World and one NCAADivision I championship teams, and been ranked the #1 female hockeyplayer in the world - Angela knows just how important it is to taketime away from her sport to refresh both her body and mind.
After the 2007 IIHF World Women's Championship, she took six months away from her sport to relax. "I got to a point where I discovered thatit's important as an athlete that you're always refreshed and you'rewhere you want to be," she says. "Your mind has to be in the right place. If your mind isn't, your body won't be."
Stay physically active
Taking time off from hockey didn't mean Angela wasn't staying in shape.She still made sure to stay active by doing off-ice training. Angelastresses that as important as it is for hockey players to take a solidmonth off from skating after the season ends, it is just as importantthat they follow an off-season training regimen including:
- Cross training. During off-season downtime, Angela engage in some form of cross training (sprints, interval training, and biking), four to five times a week.
- Aerobic/endurance training. Angela maintains her endurance by aerobic training so that, when she resumes on-ice training, she doesn't become winded at the end of a long shift; and
- Skating. Finally, when she feels ready, Angela gets back on the ice to skate once a week, which is just enough to maintain a smooth stride. She advises against taking more than a month off from skating, however, because she found that, if she did, her stride was choppy when she resumed skating, and it took a lot of extra work to get it back.
Angela also stresses the importance of time away from the ice because it helps her stay mentally sharp. "Mentally having time away from my sport was really good for me." That way when I start skating again "it is because I want to skate, [and] play because I want to be there."
For kids, time off from their sport is especially important. Angela strongly encourages kids to "take time off in the summer, or when it'syour off-season, and do other things [to] stay active. Use that time to relax and when your season is back, you'll be completely recharged."
Play another sport
During your child's time away from hockey, encourage him to try new activities, such as another sport. Cross training doesn't have to just be done in the gym; it can be practiced by playing other sports which build complimentary skills. For example, a hockey player who runs track, or plays soccer or tennis, will develop strength, aerobic endurance, and footwork that will likely make her a better player when she returns to the ice.
The skills required for most sports all relate to one another. Through cross-training and playing different sports, children develop different muscles and skills that actually make them into a better athlete in their chosen sport. As Angela points out, "taking time away from your sport doesn't mean that you're ever really away from it."
Because the ice hockey season is a long one and requires a greater level of dedication and commitment than some other sports, parents are advised to make sure that their child is committed to playing for the entire season before the season starts:
- Make sure it is something he really wants to do and that he is playing because it is fun, not because someone else (a parent, coach, teammates) expect him to; and
- Make sure he understands that in joining a team he is making a commitment to his teammates that he needs to be prepared to honor. While a child should never be pushed to practice or play if he truly doesn't want to, he may need occasional reminders, when his spirits begin to lag, about the commitment he has made to his team.