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Monday, May 23, 2011

Keeping Busy During the Off-Season

When I was younger, and still playing competitive travel hockey, by this time of the year I was pretty much burned out on playing. I'm sure many of you feel the same way; summer was my time to just kick back and put hockey on the backburner for a few months while my mind and body recovered from a long regular season and grueling playoff run. I've found that this is especially true for highschool-aged players, who often play on a travel team in addition to playing for their highschool hockey club. When I was a sophomore at Webster Groves High School in St. Louis, MO, I was swinging from JV to Varsity while I played on a travel team with the Affton Americans. This was pretty common for players in our area, and you might be doing just the same. Eventually, you start to feel like you might as well set up a cot in the zamboni room and live at the rink.

Every "hockey region" around the U.S. is set up just a little bit differently. As I said, I grew up in the midwest where highschool hockey is very competitive, a close second to AA and AAA hockey leagues. Go up to Minnesota and you'll find that highschool hockey is actually more competitive than most AAA leagues around the nation. On the west coast, highschool ice hockey isn't nearly as competitive because there just simply aren't as many schools in each area with a decent pool of players to choose from; so, travel hockey is usually where the players turn for the best competition. The east coast is more like the midwest but has its own set of nuances.

In any case, the hockey season can be a bit of a grind for players of any age, and it should be. Our sport demands much from the players, and is better described as a lifestyle, rather than merely a game played for recreation. Your heart has to be in it if you're going to make the most of it, but that doesn't mean you have to spend every waking moment on the pond. Sometimes, the best thing you can do as a hockey player is involve yourself in activities that have very little do with hockey at all. Some guys can skate all day every day and never grow tired of it. But, there's much to be gained by seeking out other outlets; especially if you're like me – prone to burning out after a long season.

My first recommendation is to find another sport that you enjoy. In my opinion, the best crossover sport for hockey players is lacrosse. There are many similarities between the two, and I found that my shot and my hands both improved after playing just one season of lacrosse – not to mention the endurance boost you'll get from all of the running you do in lacrosse. It's also a physical sport, and fast-paced, so you'll have to keep your head up just like you do on the rink, which should keep you from developing any bad habits.

Golf is a natural choice for hockey players, and you may be surprised at how quickly your swing develops because of your experience on the rink. Obviously, the nice thing about golf is that you can spend all day outside on a beautiful course with a few buddies, just hacking away, chirping at each other, enjoying the scenery, taking time to relax and unwind. Golf is fairly difficult, so it can be frustrating at times; but, you'll probably enjoy it nonetheless.

Depending on where you live, a float trip down the river could be a great option. If that's not feasible, grab some camping gear and take a hike with some team mates or friends. If you aren't a big fan of the outdoors, go to an indoor rock climbing facility. Go play lazer tag... It may seem like a childish thing to do, but I guarantee that as soon as you get in there and start playing you'll have a blast. How about paintballing?

The key is simply to keep yourself involved in physical activities as often as you can. That being said, rest is incredibly important. If you have bumps, bruises, or tears from the season that need to heal, then by all means, rest! But don't get lazy during the off-season. If you mix it up and break the monotony of your daily routine, by the time the season starts back up you'll be hungry to play again. If you're a real hockey player, the ice will always feel like home. Just make sure you take a vacation every once in a while.