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8U development: The human, the athlete, and the hockey player

04/28/2019, 3:15pm MDT
By Michael Rand

We live in a society of choices, opinions and judgment. Sometimes that leads us to make the best and most informed decisions possible. But often times that leads us to overanalyze options and puzzle over things that used to be simple.

This is particularly true of parenthood, where the instinct to want what’s best for our kids can devolve into a rabbit hole of overthinking and control.

Your mission this summer, at least as it applies to 8U hockey players: Don’t think too hard and don’t try too hard. Let kids be kids, says Dan Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

The model

Jablonic likes Finland’s methodology. The principles there, which align with the ADM in many ways, take a holistic approach to development.

“They’re always in the mindset of developing the whole athlete before they even look at developing the hockey player,” he said. “It’s a three-pronged approach: Human development, which is all about the kid as a person. Athletic development. And then the hockey development.”

How that translates into skill development in the context of a well-rounded child at 8U is pretty simple.

“The big thing in terms of skill acquisition is let them be a kid and have fun,” Jablonic said. “That’s critically important and the models of success have really shown that over the years – especially with younger kids – is that the unstructured times are so important.”

What to do

Well, let’s start with what not to do: Don’t drain your bank account rushing from camp to camp or buying up ice time.

“If you want to go to hockey camp once a summer, that’s fine,” Jablonic said. “But if you think you’re going to get a ton of skills from five hockey camps, what’s really going to happen is your kid isn’t going to be energized for the fall season.”

Instead, the focus should be on “unstructured and unscheduled time,” Jablonic said. If you have to put it on your iPhone calendar, it’s probably not unstructured.

“They should play games with kids in the neighborhood,” Jablonic said. “It’s important to get skills from other sports or activities. It’s even more important to feel energized again, and having fun with different movement areas in an unstructured environment is the key.”

As far as any structured activities go, having things that are far away from the scope of hockey is a great idea.

“Maybe even a music lesson or a science camp. I’ve seen kids signed up in old-school videos for breakdance class,” Jablonic said. “It’s amazing the stuff that they’re doing, building agility and balance and doing it in such a fun way with great teachers creating names for different movements.”

It’s their life

Genetically and behaviorally, kids often appear to be miniature versions of their parents. They will undoubtedly be influenced by things they are exposed to, and parents often act as gatekeepers in that regard.

The key distinction, Jablonic notes, is determining what a child really wants and what he or she is just going along with – particularly in the 8U age group.

“Parents have to ask kids. It’s their life and you really have to say what interests do you have. Do you want to try that?” Jablonic said. “There are going to be things they gravitate to and things they don’t, but allow them to learn something.”

If kids truly love hockey, the best thing in many cases is to refresh and recharge that love by getting away from it for a while.

“We have to have the focus on what the kids want to explore,” Jablonic said. “We want what’s best for kids, and for me as a parent if my kid chooses another path that’s OK. But let’s allow them an opportunity to try different things – and it’s only going to help their hockey.”



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