Q: I was under the impression that there is no body-checking at the 12U age classification, but when I watch my son’s practice, it seems to me that there is an excessive amount of body contact involved in most practices. Is this normal and in line with what USA Hockey recommends?
A: While the 12U age category does not allow body-checking, it does allow body contact. In addition, USA Hockey does recommend that practice at the 12U age category includes a progression of teaching players the correct technique for body-checking.
It is very important in the proper development of youth hockey players that the progression toward full body-checking, which is currently legal beginning at the 14U age classification, begins at 8U. Starting with basic body awareness, the on-ice safety portion of the early stages of this body-contact instruction emphasizes critical concepts like “Heads Up, Don’t Duck,” along with how to retrieve a loose puck and how to safely and effectively receive body contact. Even at this young age (8U), proper instruction includes teaching players that body contact and body-checking are skills that are used to regain the puck, and not to “separate the man from the puck” or to “intimidate the opponent.”
Players at 8U who play in small areas both in practices (small-area games) and in games (cross- or half-ice hockey) learn how to be comfortable with incidental body contact and the importance of angling an opponent to get the puck.
Beginning at 10U, players should be taught the proper technique of how to protect the puck with their body, and how to angle the opponent using their stick and their body. 10U practices should be filled with lots of battles for loose pucks and lots of body contact.
At 12U, USA Hockey-certified coaches have been taught, through our Coaching Education Program, to not only continue with the emphasis on body contact but to also begin teaching players how to effectively give and receive a body check. By including this as a point of emphasis in 12U practice plans, our coaches can deliver the final step in the preparation of players for the 14U age category in a controlled, safe, age-appropriate environment.
While body-checking should not be excessive or reckless in 12U practices, body contact and the proper instruction of body-checking should definitely be a big part of what you observe. While it is impossible to make a definitive determination without actually seeing practice, it sounds like your son’s coach may be on the proper path of preparing your son and his teammates for playing at the 14U age level.
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.
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