Many parents often ask me about the best sport to enroll their children in during the winter time. Hockey always comes high on my list of recommendations. Children as young as 5 years old can participate and benefit from this total body work out.
Health Benefits of Hockey:
Hockey is a high-intensity sport that has many cardiovascular benefits. Between bouts of running, skating, and bouts of rests, kids are participating in interval training without even realizing it. High-intensity interval training has been known to boost aerobic capacity, energy levels, and metabolism.
In a sport where skating skills are essential, kids have to put their leg and core muscle to use. Building power in these large muscle groups will also strengthen their postural muscles. Postural muscles are important in children’s attention and participation in school. Natural muscle strengthening that comes from playing a sport (as opposed to weight-lifting) is highly beneficial in children. Improved muscle strength ensures optimal bone growth and prevents injury.
Children as young as 3 years old can balance on one leg briefly. Their stability on their feet is often a reflection of how well they can recruit their core, glutes, and stabilizing muscles. The skills required to play hockey, such as balancing on skates while passing a puck, provide children opportunities to work on their balance reactions. Working on balance strategies in the ankles and hips will also help children become more aware of their bodies and improve their proprioception (the sense of where their joint positions are in space).
Learning any new motor skill and training for any sport requires our proprioceptive sense. This sense allows us to move our limbs correctly in space (in response to a flying puck or an oncoming opponent) without looking at them directly. As with most sports, hockey requires upper body coordination and hand-eye coordination. In order to successfully pass or score, players have to grade their muscle forces and determine how to coordinate their limbs with every move.
In high-intensity sports where athletes have to think fast on their feet and respond quickly to plays, they are not just working on their physical skills but mental acuity as well. Hockey enhances children’s agility due to the swiftness provided by the skates and the constant quick changes in direction needed to receive pucks or dodge other players.
This fast-paced sport trains concentration and ability to make precise decisions. It will also give your child a sense of pride. As with any team sport, hockey prepares a child for social interactions necessary for school and work. Success in a team environment will build trust, sportsmanship, responsibility, and openness to change. Participation will help a child understand how to deal with winning and losing, which is applicable throughout life.
As for any sport, to prevent injury and obtain the most health benefits from playing, safety is a must. Before enrolling your child in hockey, make sure he knows the importance of protective gear and playing fair. You will have a healthy, strong, and enthusiastic little athlete every winter.
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