There has been a lot of debate in recent years over young players getting involved in summer hockey.
More than half of the players I have talked to in the Greater Toronto Area play (or intend to play) in organized tournaments in May and June this year and they expect to travel to Boston, Minnesota, Detroit, Ottawa and even Europe.
Gone are the days of putting away your skates after the season ends and picking them up again in September.
As a kid I played in many tournaments. I loved it. But in retrospect, there are some clear benefits and negatives that come along with the ride. Here is my take:
• You get to play with and against many different teams and players. Summer tournaments have fewer administrative rules. For example, I played on Roberto Luongo’s team from Montreal in peewee and with Tim Connolly’s team from Syracuse/NY. In the age of Facebook and Twitter this is a great way for kids to branch out, network and have fun outside of their geographical area.
• Every weekend is new. During the course of a ‘winter team’ there are budgets, line combinations, schedules, fundraising, politics, standings and statistics that drag on all year. During the summer, if you have a bad game or weekend you can press the reset button and start fresh. Issues don’t tend to carry on to the next week.
• Simple fun. Kids need to be kids. Though they take the game seriously, some of the best times they have are jumping in and out of the hotel pool and having fun outdoors between games (and, hey, parents tend to have a better time in the summer, too).
• Good Hockey. Some of the best teams I played against every year were all-star squads that were formed specifically for these tournaments. For instance, the South West Hawks representing the London-Sarnia area had Brian Campbell and some guy named Joe Thornton.
• Gameplay. As a player plays more games he will undoubtedly be put into more pressure situations on the ice. Finding ways to compete and win under varying circumstances can serve players well in developing hockey sense. Some players even get to play a different position during the summer.
• Cost. Hockey is already expensive. Registration and increasing travel fees can really put added stress on a family.
• Schooling. Most tournaments start on Friday, which means players usually miss out on classes. Education should still be a priority for these student-athletes.
• Organization. Summer tournaments (and teams) have become a big business. Unfortunately, sometimes they can be run inefficiently as they try to bring in money instead of improving the experience for players and families.
• Burnout. Players can be drained physically and mentally after a long year of winter hockey. Though they may improve in the summer, the strain could have detrimental effects. Some kids may be better off playing soccer or lacrosse for variation.
• Lack of specialized development. Every family has a limited amount of time, resources and energy. Playing extensive summer hockey games can limit a player from addressing skill areas that are in need of attention such as skating, strength or shooting.
Every player and family situation is different. To me, it all comes down to fun. If you choose to have your player participate in the summer tournament chaos, be sure they are enjoying the experience and coming out with a smile on their face.
Daniel Tkaczuk was Calgary's first round pick in 1997 (sixth overall) and has been playing professionally in North America and Europe for the past 12 seasons. He is currently president of iHockeyTrainer.com, an online hockey school for skill development.