By David Kittner
Developing an Athletic Foundation Through Play
Long gone are the days when kids played outside only to come home each day to eat and then again at night when the street lights came on. Kids rode their bikes, ran up slides, rolled down hills, jumped off picnic tables, jumped rope, played hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek. In addition, pickup games of various sports could be found throughout neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds. Without realizing, kids through their play and non-structured activities were enhancing their development as human beings: socially, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Today, kids are no longer engaged in active free play, they have less physical education at school and their days are much more structured in the evenings and weekends with homework, tutoring, music lessons and youth sports. As a result children are growing up without basic fundamental movement skills and a strong sense of physical literacy. This translates into poor movement patterns, weaker bodies, higher rates of injury and less than optimal performances on and off the ice.
The care free days of free play may be over but all is not lost. There’s still opportunities for parents and coaches to assist their kids in developing an athletic foundation while engaging them in age and developmentally appropriate games and activities.
By incorporating non-hockey specific games of play and physical activity into your on and off ice practices, you can help develop your athletes’ coordination, flexibility, mobility, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, accuracy, endurance and stamina. The key is create a fun, engaging and dynamic learning environment. Remember though you’re working with kids, not miniature adults.
The key to working with kids is to make their activities fun and engaging. The more they are playing and being active the more they are developing their athleticism which over time will make them better athletes, less prone to injury and better performers on and off the ice.
Next are two examples of games you can use both on the ice as well as off the ice that will not only get your kids moving but will be a lot of fun too.
Activity #1 – Circle Tag
Circle Tag helps to develop acceleration, deceleration, lateral movement, reactivity, teamwork, communication and strategically thinking skills.
Make a group of 5 to 8 athletes. The more people you have, the bigger the circle and the harder the game becomes. Have the kids form a huddled circle (holding on at the shoulder, hips or waist) while one player remains outside the circle. One player within the circle is designated to be tagged. The person outside the circle is IT.
How To Play
On the GO call, the player outside the circle who is IT moves in whichever direction they choose in an effort to tag the designated person within the circle. Working as a team the circle moves clockwise or counter clockwise reacting to the movements of the person outside the circle. Play for 15 to 30 seconds or until the designated person is tagged between the shoulder blades. The person who was IT now joins the circle. The person who was tagged becomes IT and a new person to be tagged is designated. Continue playing until each person has had an opportunity to be IT.
To kick the game up a notch, have each player within the circle close their eyes with the exception of the person being tagged and the person that is IT. The circle must now rely on verbal instructions from the person being tagged as to which way to move to prevent from being tagged.
Activity #2 – Scramble to Balance
Scramble to Balance helps to develop coordination, systemic strength, balance, special awareness, flexibility, mobility and reactivity.
Instruct kids to lay face down on their stomachs leaving plenty of room between them and their teammates.
How To Play
Have the kids close their eyes. On the Go call, kids stand up as fast as they can and balance on one foot for 3 to 5 seconds. The kids then lay down and repeat for the other foot.
1. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to open their eyes and have them hinge forward at the hips slowly and with control touching the outside of their standing foot with their opposite hand. Repeat with each foot.
2. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step forward with their non-balancing foot 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
3. On the Go call the kids stand up and balance as before. After 3 to 5 seconds ask them to take a giant step backward with their non-balancing leg 3 to 5 times returning to the start position after each step. Repeat with each foot.
4. Have the kids lay on their stomachs this time with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing in a squat position. Repeat with each foot.
5. Have the kids lay on their stomachs with their eyes open. On the Go call the kids stand up as fast as they can, exploding up on one foot and landing on the same foot. Repeat with the other foot.