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5 Qualities of a Good 8U Hockey Program

10/17/2019, 4:15pm MDT
By Michael Rand

When searching for an 8U youth hockey program, a lot of the basic elements will be the same in almost all of them.

But if you look closely, you will also find that there are key facets of good programs that all parents should be seeking out. Here are five of those things, with the help of Kenny Rausch, USA Hockey's youth hockey director.

Time Management On (and Off) the Ice

Ice time is expensive and valuable, but not all use of it is created equally. So if your 8U player is in a program with a lot of pace and activity in their practices, you are off to a good start. Gone are the days of standing around in long lines waiting for the next thing to happen.

“Obviously for a young player a big thing would be station-based practices,” Rausch said. “You want them to be very active.”

But it’s not just time on the ice. Off-ice training, games and activities should be incorporated at the 8U level, too.

“You want to have prominent off-ice training,” Rausch said. “We have to remember that off-ice training for 8U isn’t the same as it for 16U. You’re promoting agility, balance and coordination.”

Here are some examples of fun and effective 8U dryland drills:

Teaching Fundamentals

Nobody likes to lose. But at 8U, outcomes from individual games should not come at the expense of the outcome of overall development and fundamental learning.

“You’re more focused on teaching them basics and fundamentals of the game instead of winning and losing,” Rausch says. “Not that winning and losing isn’t important, but you’re not putting together super teams to play 80 games a year.”

Not Focused on Travel

Along those lines, you’re in the right 8U program if your child is spending more time on the ice in practice than in a car traveling to games.

“For me it’s all about the practice-to-game ratio,” Rausch says. “If it’s not 3:1 and you’re playing full-ice and concerned about traveling, it’s not the right program.”

Age Appropriate

Playing small-area games and cross-ice are components of what the ADM teaches. But so, too, is the notion that players come to 8U with varying skill levels and that instruction should be aimed at helping everyone at that age improve and have fun.

“The best 8-year-old rarely becomes the best 20-year-old. We call it winning the race to the wrong finish line,” Rausch said. “Even looking at NHL drafts tells you that you can’t always tell.”

Rausch uses the example of Joe Pavelski, who has 762 points and counting in a long NHL career, as a good example. Pavelski wasn’t picked until the seventh round of the 2003 draft, the second year he was eligible to be picked. In the NHL, Rausch also notes, 17.1 percent of players were undrafted. There’s so much time for a player to blossom after 8U, if we take the time to do it age-appropriately.

Safety First

And finally, a good 8U program must take safety seriously. USA Hockey is a leader in taking proactive measures to make youth hockey safe on and off the ice.

That means ensuring all athletes have the proper gear; all players, coaches, officials, employees, volunteers and other relevant individuals participate in SafeSport training to prevent abuse and bullying; strict locker room policies are intact; and a culture of teamwork, fun and inclusivity is created.

Declaration of Player Safety

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Tag(s): ADM Features