Specialization, pressure, prep-schools and player development: Insights from elite Canadian hockey players


A recent news article reporting that 40% of NHL all-stars attended hockey academies or sport-focused prep-school programs highlighted the increasing role of hockey academies in the changing face of player development in Canada. Research regarding pathways for player development in Canadian hockey that discuss the role of hockey academies is scarce and the views of those who have played at an elite level are not well represented. The present study explored the role of sport specialization, parental influence, and hockey academies in player development from the perspective of Canadian hockey players who had played at an elite level. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten hockey players (24-52yrs) who had played in the Canadian (CHL), National (NHL) or other professional hockey leagues; the majority of participants had children who had played or were playing hockey. Thematic analysis revealed a recognition of the potential negative impacts of early specialization. Further, parental over-investment was seen as being detrimental to a player's development. In discussing academies, tension existed where attending an academy was not seen as necessary for playing at an elite level, but there was clear support for the specialized structure of hockey academies including the infrastructure, competitive atmosphere, and opportunities to be scouted. These findings align with and extend those in the existing literature highlighting pressures to specialize while providing insight into the hockey academy as an emerging venue for player development. Bringing forward the perspectives of those who had played at an elite level was a unique strength of the study.