We’re a hockey family: I play, and my two boys play. Mom does not play yet, but her skating has come a long way on the backyard rink. I get asked all the time what my boys are going to do in the off-season.

It’s a question for the ages. Just to begin, there is no perfect answer. Every kid and athlete are different – some can’t get enough of a particular sport, some just want to be done, and this can change year to year.

An athlete may not want to hang up their skates for the spring when the season is going well. But if the season has been a long one, they may be counting down the minutes until the gear can go back in its bag for the summer. Either way, younger kids (especially ages five to 15) need a break. If they don’t want a break, too bad. Time for some tough love. They will thank you for it.

Either way, younger kids (especially ages five to 15) need a break. If they don’t want a break, too bad. Time for some tough love. They will thank you for it.

This leads me to my list of how we decompress when the season ends and how we start to plan for next year now.

1 | Communicate.

Ask your athlete how they felt about their season. Maybe start a journal with your younger athletes. If your kid is older and heading into high school, they should be tracking their performances anyway. Now would be a good time to start. Here are some sample questions I like to ask:

  • What aspect of your season did you like best?
  • What skill did you improve upon the most?
  • What do you wish you could do over?
  • What are two things you want to improve upon before the next season begins?
  • Now that the season is over, is this a sport you would like to continue?

2 | Plan the gear for next year.

Quickly go through your kids’ gear and see what will fit them for another season and what they’ll need new for next year.

Consider your kid’s skill level when assessing his or her equipment needs. Are they getting good at a particular sport? If so, will they need better than average – or even custom – gear? This type of gear typically takes longer for fitting and ordering purposes so plan ahead.

I order my kids’ gear about four months before the start of the season. This allows enough time for fitting, any possibly delays in delivery, and a couple of months for them to break in the new stuff.

The downside to planning ahead is the risk of buying a bunch of gear that your kid outgrows before the season starts. My kids are growing a ton right now and they can outgrow equipment over just a summer. If any of you have suggestions about handling this kind of snafu, I am all ears!

3 | Play a different sport. Or lots of them.

Again, my boys play hockey, and a lot of it. They start in October and finish in May. Now that our last spring tournament is complete I’ve switched my boys’ hockey gear out for a baseball glove and bat.

In Vermont, our baseball season is only five weeks long, maybe six. So once the flash of the baseball season has passed, what do we do? Well, we do everything. Fishing, golf, play lacrosse in the backyard, driveway basketball games, hiking, wiffle ball is a big hit,We also encourage our kids to get in plenty of swimming at the pool, lake, or ocean during the summer – whatever we can do together as a family to stay active and continue to build and learn about our athletic abilities.

I hear coaches talk all the time about the importance of playing multiple sports and building athleticism – I couldn’t agree more.

5 | Try a new sports camp.

We are a household where both parents work. We have a great family support network during the summer, but we also rely on sports camps to expose our boys to new types of activities that they might not discover on their own.

My youngest goes to a skateboarding camp, and my oldest wants to try a survival camp. Our goal as parents is to make sure they’re learning new things and experiencing new adventures each and every day of summer if possible.

6 | Work on skills for next season.

First, don’t specialize you child until at least high school – maybe even after their sophomore year, depending on your child’s development. They may think they want to be in the NBA at age nine, but other factors will eventually decide their favorite sport. Let them figure that out.

One way to help them along that path is to use just a little bit of off-season time for skill development. My boys typically do one week of power skating in the summer.

My older boy, who is eight, is going to learn about athletic training at a twice weekly training program for younger athletes. Each summer this program will progressively get more and more intense.

At the end of the day, sports are about the experience.

Our sons also attend one week of hockey camp in the off-season. Some of my best memories as a hockey player growing up are from sleepaway hockey camp. Even with the non-air-conditioned dorms and bad food, camp was always where I grew the most as a player. It also gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I got to try different camps and go to different places, which helped me as a kid to get out of my comfort zone and find new ways to engage with sports.

At the end of the day, sports are about the experience. Just look at baseball: only 1 in 1,000 kids that play in high school even get a shot at the big leagues. The odds of your kid becoming a professional athlete in any sport are incredibly small, so try not to make that the focus – for them or you.

Give your kids the chance at a young age to grow and learn to love athletics for what they do to enhance our lives. Maybe that’s working toward a career as a pro athlete, but maybe it’s just learning how to be the best you can at a particular task, and then repeat. Kind of like what the real world asks of us every day.

As a parent of two very athletic boys all I can say is I want them to work hard and have fun when they are doing it. Sometimes working hard and having fun is just taking a step away to reset their athletic clocks for the next long (or short) season.