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Justin Bourne's Blog: Want to improve at hockey? Practice, practice, practice

The Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota hosted a gear expo during the state's high school championship. (Photo by Ron LeBlanc/Getty Images)

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The Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota hosted a gear expo during the state's high school championship. (Photo by Ron LeBlanc/Getty Images)

I spent the majority of my weekend at the boys’ high school hockey state tournament in Minnesota, which featured an incredible gear expo on the lower floor of the Xcel Energy Center.

Incredible, I should point out, relates to the vast scope and size of the event, not necessarily to the products found within the booths.

Looking at all the knick-knacks, I couldn’t help but wonder about some of the folks handing over cash at the tables that housed the most mind-blowingly unnecessary products. The question I wanted to ask them was: how much of a difference do you think the improve-your-game trinkets actually make?

I hope they know the answer is ‘not much, if any.’

For those of us who take a sport seriously, you know it can cost a seemingly endless amount of dollars and even more so when you’re interested in self-improvement (golf might be the worst for this). And that’s basically what gear expos are about: the claim of “buy this and it will make you one-tenth of a percentage point better at your sport.” From there, guests try to buy up all the tenths they can in hopes of seeing some tangible improvement.

As it goes with different forms of workouts, diets and beyond, there’s an unfortunate reality we all need to note as sports-loving consumers: to improve at anything, in any way, you have to put in the time and work. You have to do something. It’s that simple. You don’t need gimmicky gadgets to accomplish that, but if that’s what gets you to put the time in, fine.

If you do buy the product that got me thinking about this (the wood hockey ball, of all major technological breakthroughs), it’s not going to make you a worse stickhandler. In fact, it’ll probably make you a better one. Why? Because you’ve been practicing stickhandling.

It could be with an orange, a grape, a golf ball (speed up those hands!) a shot-put (strengthen those forearms!) or, I don’t know, something crazy like a puck and it would have the same result - you simply have to work on your game to improve. You don’t need to get sucked in by the madness, so keep your wallet in your jeans. Remember - if those toys helped players improve faster than good ol’ fashioned practice, professionals would use them.  

They don’t.

When it comes to hockey, it helps to have good equipment. I’ve got no problem with spending a bit for the good stuff. But if you buy your kid the Puck Sock to improve his shot, I reserve the right to point out you’re bad with money (sorry, Puck Sock, I just couldn’t remember the name of the weighted stick company who’s equally deserving of my scorn).

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If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he hypothesizes the necessary time spent doing something to really master it is somewhere around 10,000 hours. Whether that’s true or not, there’s no denying you need to invest time in your craft to get better.  

So play, play, play.

Hockey is a beautiful game, yet instead of playing to improve we’re strapping eight-year-olds into harnesses connected to crossover machines in the middle of the summer to improve their...what? Stride? Or is it to build muscle? I don’t even know. But at least the kids are putting in some time, I guess.

If you want to work on crossovers, go work on crossovers. Repetition is the father of learning, so rinse and repeat. Get some instruction and do the thing you want to get better at an annoying amount of times.

Our society loves to find shortcuts. We are the same people who created an exercise machine that you stand in, put a huge elastic band around your butt and do nothing while it shakes you. We created an ab machine that tenses your muscles using electrical stimulation while you sit on the couch. We hate the reality that, to lose weight, you have to eat right and do something.

There is no magic cure; you have to put the time in. Sadly, no product will serve as a shortcut for you.

So next time you’re contemplating getting the next ‘it’ thing in hockey training, whether it’s for your son or daughter, think twice. If it will encourage them to play more, rock on. Otherwise, save your cash. This game is expensive enough.

Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.

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