A month into the school year, teachers start working out the kinks in their lesson plans for the rest of the year. We look at our students and figure out what will work best for this group. Like most teachers, Phys-ed teachers play to their strengths, highlighting sports and activities they enjoy or think have important skill sets for students to know. I personally align my basketball unit before basketball season to try to convince students it’s a great sport to participate in and try to get more numbers out for my team. Other sports, like hockey, I do not have a great wealth of knowledge in because my parents didn’t want me playing it growing up. Even though it is not my strong suit, I do see the value in hockey as a part of the bigger physical literacy puzzle.
There have been multiple articles about the negative effects of focusing children in one sport at an early age. I was reading an article on ESPN titled “These kids are ticking time bombs: The threat of youth basketball” by Baxter Holmes (2019). In this article, Dr. Neeru Jayanthi talks about athletes entering college sports saying, “kids are broken by the time they get to college.” As kids train to become the best at a particular sport, they go through a motion over and over again, breaking down the body, so that by the time they get to the college level they are very prone to a major injury. Parents put kids in a sport early and make them focus on it to get them to elite levels in hopes of them making it big. Multiple studies have shown that having children play a variety of sports throughout their youth makes them better athletes overall because they have strengthened a more diverse set of movements and don’t break down joints or muscles because of focused repetitive use.
When I think of hockey, I think of it, as a unique skill set that kids should learn to build a complete movement library. The use of the hockey stick as an implement adds to the complexity of movement, thinking and decision-making. There is finesse in handling the puck (or ball) and it is an easy to learn but difficult to master type of skill. It is not an activity that should be just focused on but should be a part of the bigger picture when it comes to building a complete athletic student. A lot of skills cross over from sport to sport and can add to each other in ways that a single sport by itself cannot. Most importantly, hockey has a unique set of movements, which if added to a larger set of skills, help prevent major injuries down the road.
One thing that I am always cautious of in hockey is the physicality that comes with it. As it is a contact sport outside of the classroom there will be those who try to bring that part of the game into the gym. Some students will try to show their strength either through using their body or trying to hit the ball as hard as they can at the goalie. There is physicality in all sports and it is up to the teacher to create a positive and safe classroom where increased aggression is not tolerated. Hockey can be daunting for students who are not good at it because the ones who are good at it usually play it outside of school, and therefore are also more physical because it is a normal part of the sport to them. This can be said for almost any sport, however, and it shouldn’t be a deterrent for any teacher wanting to bring it into their physical education class.
Hockey is Canada’s favourite past time and many of my students love it. Well, I may not be grabbing a stick and hitting the rink any time soon, the benefits of hockey on promoting teamwork, dexterity and a well-rounded athlete are why it’s an integral part of my phys-ed curriculum each year.