As a former college hockey player and current head coach of a Division I women’s program, Chris Wells is fully aware of the time commitment and dedication hockey requires.
But as a father of three – two girls and a boy – he’s probably even more cognizant of both the perils and prizes of youth hockey.
Combine all three elements, and he’s an excellent resource for 10U parents and players as they consider what things to prioritize in their lives. Here are four key takeaways with Wells.
Wells had a standout senior year at St. Lawrence University in 1991-92, tallying 36 points – including the overtime winner in the conference semifinals en route to an NCAA tournament berth.
He returned to St. Lawrence as an assistant coach with the men’s hockey team in 1999 and took over as the head coach of the women’s program there in 2008, leading the school to three NCAA tournament berths in the last decade.
When asked what skill players are lacking when they get to the college level that he wished was developed better at the youth level, he gave a profound answer in just one word: “Skating.”
Indeed, that’s a huge focus of USA Hockey’s American Development Model at all levels – and particularly 10U, where coaches find young athletes who still have a wide range of abilities but are starting to learn some of the finer technical points of skating.
But becoming better skaters shouldn’t feel like a job.
The best way to develop skills at that age, Wells says, is “having fun and playing multiple sports.”
Balance is key
USA Hockey is clear with its messaging on kids playing multiple sports: yes, yes and yes. Not only does it create more well-rounded athletes, but also it helps young hockey players avoid burnout and overuse injuries.
It doesn’t hurt that USA Hockey men’s and women’s national team rosters are packed with examples of multi-sport athletes.
Wells agrees that at the 10U level, there is value not just in doing things aside from hockey but also in developing a long-lasting sense of life balance.
“We all need balance in our lives,” Wells said. “If we can show our kids how to do it at a young age, they will be able to do it better as adults and then pass it on to their families.”
Stay out of the way
For parents of 10U players, there might be a tendency to overanalyze games or overload their sons and daughters with feedback.
Wells’ advice for parents is to do the opposite.
“Stay out of the way,” he said. “Let the kids enjoy it for what it is. When the game is over, give a big hug and don’t talk about the game unless they start the conversation.”
Savor the moments
The progression in youth hockey through age groups and various ability levels can put parents on a path that is too focused on what might happen in the long-term, Wells says. Though he has played and coached in games with much higher stakes than 10U, Wells is wistful for those days as a parent.
“Many families are not enjoying it for what it is and thinking about the future and what could be,” Wells said, explaining a common trap parents fall into. “All of our children are out of youth hockey now. What I wouldn't do for another season of that!”
The stakes will naturally be raised as kids get older and progress to higher levels of hockey. At 10U, the moments of pure joy should be paramount.
“I love seeing kids in half gear and helmet sweat heads walking in to get an ice cream or sandwich,” Wells said. “Time moves fast enough. There’s no reason to wish it away. Enjoy the moments.”