Q: What are the three key components that I should expect in my child’s youth hockey experience at 12U?
A: For me, the three most important aspects to developing a youth hockey player in the 12U age group are as follows:
1. A commitment to the development of the individual athlete.
In many cases, the focus at this age group turns to team play, but in terms of these athletes’ long-term athletic development, they are still in the Golden Age of Skill Development, so the emphasis should remain on building a quality base of individual skills that will allow the player to have long-term success in the sport. This would also include a quality off-ice training program that supports the growth of the individual players’ athleticism.
The optimal 12U playing experience is a program that keeps individual players’ athletic skill development as the top priority ahead of systems and the scoreboard.
2. A large emphasis on the mental aspect of the game.
This is great time to teach and begin emphasizing the decision-making skills needed in successful hockey. Putting 12U players in game-like practice situations over and over again and allowing them to learn through failure in practice is critical. Good coaches can combine individual skill development with decision-making by using small-area games in practice that train both physical and mental skills.
3. Teaching proper body contact and body-checking as a skill.
Just because 12U players are not allowed to use full body-checking in a game doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be taught the necessary skills to both give and take a body-check. It is imperative that coaches teach body contact, body-checking and the skills necessary to do it correctly and safely during this 12U time frame. We cannot expect players to jump into 14U hockey without some form of training and lots of it. That’s why USA Hockey’s American Development Model encourages progressive teaching of body contact and body-checking through every level of youth hockey, beginning at 8U with cross-ice hockey, which teaches contact confidence and balance by placing players on a smaller ice surface where body contact occurs more frequently. It builds a safe, effective body-contact foundation upon which more contact skills can and should be taught in each successive season of hockey.
The author, Roger Grillo, has coached for more than 20 years at the high school and college levels. He spent 12 seasons as the head coach at Brown University and was a Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year finalist in 1997-98.
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