Out of the classroom and onto the ice

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) While most of their classmates are still in school, about a dozen area junior high students are on the ice.

"Yeah, I get to leave at noon every day and come play something you love so it's really cool." Says 12-year-old Aiden Ayojiak.

Instead of attending gym or shop class or perhaps health, these kids are using their elective credit time to focus on Hockey.

"Across the United States and Canada theirs hockey academies popping up in every region and what this is is kids coming from school, they get an opportunity to work on skill development during the school hours." Says coach Keith Morris.

The Nuna Warriors Hockey Academy is a new option in Alaska for the most hardcore of hockey players. Athletes practice for more than two hours a day, four days a week, and that's before you add in whatever time they are dedicating to their actual teams. This program is skill-based, Monday's are for power skating, Tuesdays for stickhandling, Wednesdays for passing, and Thursdays for shooting.

"It's about giving kids an opportunity to come in, who want to get better, who value the on-ice time." Says coach Morris.

There is some controversy surrounding this sort of sports specialization. There's a risk of burnout and there also seems to be compelling evidence that putting in this many hours, especially before age 14, can lead to a higher risk of injury. There are benefits as well.

Young Aiden Ayojiak says "it helps a lot because every single day we're working on a different skill and those skills we just keep getting better at them and puts us ahead of everyone else who's not doing it."

11-year-old Walter Eunice agrees. "It's most important to me because to achieve my goals I want to get better and that's the difference between me and other players is I want to get better and put in the extra work to do that."

A lot of athletes who specialize this early on are looking to turn their childhood hobby into a college or even pro carrier. It's a path that doesn't work or fit for everyone but clearly some do love it and for some, it has been and can be effective.

The debate over the efficacy and effects of early specialization is ongoing but the trend towards more practice and work at an early age is increasing. Athletic academies like the Nuna Warriors meet the demand. They believe what they are doing is giving local kids of various skill levels the best chance to succeed as athletes, so long as they are willing to put in the time and effort.

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