Why Your Kid Should Play Hockey

TORONTO ON - NOVEMBER 07: Linesman Ray Scapinello drops the puck between youth hockey players at the Legends Classic Hockey Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 7 2010 in Toronto Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

All of us here at MHH love the sport of hockey. We each have our own reasons—the speed, the skill, the strategy, the strength, or that something else—that attract us to the game time and again. What we may not realize, though, is how important a game like hockey can be to the children of our lives.

Hockey benefits a child in a myriad of ways, including physically, emotionally and mentally.

1. Hockey is fantastic exercise. Hockey is one of the best cardiovascular games you can play. Alternating between skating and rest (what is known as interval training in the fitness world) improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, allowing it to bring oxygen to the muscles more quickly. It also helps to prevent injuries that often come with other sports that engage in repetitive movements. Playing hockey burns a ton of calories. Many children are facing problems with weight and diabetes as a result of eating foods that are high on taste, but low on nutrition. Playing hockey one or two times a week can offset those foods kids enjoy so much and give them the energy and desire to go outside instead of laying on the couch. Hockey requires a high level of coordination; regularly playing can develop a child's gross motor skills, which leads to improvement with the more difficult fine motor skills, and improves eye-hand coordination, which can translate to a better understanding of spatial relationships. It also requires strength, something that can benefit a child in whatever activity he or she pursues. Stronger muscles improve endurance and create stronger bones.

2. Hockey builds character. Since hockey is a team sport, children who play learn the value of working with others. They figure out how to rely on teammates and understand that cooperation is key to success. Children on hockey teams experience a team spirit that encourages trust, responsibility and sportsmanship. These lessons extend into adulthood as teammates turn into coworkers, coaches become bosses, and teams become the companies for which they work (Dave Jensen). An often overlooked benefit of team sports, including hockey, is developing the ability to accept the highs and lows in life with poise and balance. Experiencing the wins and losses that come with hockey helps a child deal with the wins and losses in life all that much better. Hockey also promotes a strong sense of self, a positive self-esteem and pride. Utilizing positive self-talk and managing stress help balance a child's outlook on life.

3. Hockey improves mental agility. Hockey is a fast sport. Plays develop in seconds, and momentum can shift in the blink of an eye. A child who can learn how to operate in that sort of environment will improve his or her ability to make quick decisions and think on his or feet. Concentration is also improved; being able to concentrate while playing will make it easier to concentrate while learning. It's also a sport of strategy. Understanding how one event can lead to—or even create—another is essential to life success. When a child develops the skills to do that on the ice, that child can then translate the skills to life. Children also learn how to use mental imagery, a skill that can aid in understanding how to do something. Mental imagery is also frequently used by adults to achieve goals.

Research has shown that kids who play hockey at a young age are more likely to continue to play that sport throughout their lives. In fact, youth hockey players are three times more likely than basketball players and nearly two times more likely than baseball, soccer or football players to go on to play the sport in college (NCAA). By putting a child in a hockey program, you are creating a lifelong enthusiast and health-oriented individual.

With this in mind, the NHL and USA Hockey have teamed together to create Try Hockey for Free Day. The next event is this Saturday, February 18, 2012. Ice rinks around the country will be offering children ages 4-9 the chance to step on the ice and experience the wonders of hockey. To find a rink near you, go to TryHockeyForFree.com.

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