Q: I’ve heard the 10U age category called the “Golden Age of Motor Skill Development.” What does this mean and why is it important?
A: The 10U age classification has been called the “Golden Age of Motor Skill Development” because kids at this age have unique needs for their athletic development and they acquire the potential to make extraordinary improvements in their abilities. This is the stage of development during which individual skills mastery can really begin and accelerate, provided the athlete has acquired a solid foundation of fundamental sport skills (referred to often as the ABCs, i.e., agility, balance and coordination).
While athletic development is not rigidly age-determined, there are differences in growth and development rates amongst children. Most kids, by the time they enter our squirt category, have enough skeletal and musculature development to take advantage of the neural development that has occurred in an average child. This means that most kids who are in the 9- to 10-year-old range are in prime position to develop motor coordination and acquire sport-specific skills. They have the ability to lift the ceiling higher for their future overall athletic potential. This is why our American Development Model stresses practice time so much at this particular level. It’s truly the beginning of their most important window for skill acquisition, a time when they can make the greatest gains and position themselves for long-term success.
For ice hockey, skating and puck control skills are the primary focus throughout the 10U age group and should be practiced consistently all season. At this age, players begin having the ability to really concentrate on individual technique. However, this attention span is still short, so the length of technique-specific drills should be limited to 7-8 minutes while “play-focused” activities can go longer.
Activity that includes a progression of simple to complex balance and coordination exercises should be incorporated into the basic core hockey skills within each practice. And it’s essential to do these exercises regularly over the course of a season and beyond. Exercises requiring a high level of coordination should be part of every ice session at the 10U age level. Incorporating these, along with a large dose of sport-specific skill development drills and small-area games, syncs with a 10U athlete’s physiological development stage to ramp up their overall development and potential.
The author, Bob Mancini, is a longtime hockey coach and player-development expert. His experience includes two seasons in the NHL as an Edmonton Oilers development coach and more than a decade as a head coach in the NCAA Division I and OHL ranks.