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Increasing Skill Acquisition at 10U

02/07/2020, 9:15am MST
By Michael Rand

As the game evolves, our approach to development must follow. The more we learn, the more we grow. That doesn’t mean the old way of doing things was wrong. 

Bob Mancini wants to make that clear.

“I’m a little sensitive because I think sometimes we come across as ‘everyone used to do it wrong and now we’re doing it right,’” said Mancini, one of USA Hockey’s American Development Model regional managers.

So consider this primer on 10U skills less of a critique of how things used to be and more of an understanding of how hockey is building on years of wisdom while implementing new strategies for the modern game.

“I don’t know if I can speak to the previous way it was done, but our goal is to increase skill acquisition and adaptability among our young players,” Mancini said. “That goes throughout the development cycle of a player, but we really want to make sure we focus on that at 9 years old.”

Developing Hockey IQ

Mancini makes an important distinction when talking about skill development: don’t limit your thinking to physical techniques because skill is not just the physical movements. It is really how players perceive and act within the real game environment.

“One of the most important things is recognizing that awareness and decision-making are connected with technique and together they define skill,” Mancini said. “I think sometimes when we talk about development we think only about shooting, passing, puckhandling and skating. We have to remember that these young ages are also learning awareness and decision-making and which helps to start to develop their hockey IQ.”

To that end, the thinking on the best way to deliver that information and build on that on-ice decision-making has evolved through the years, Mancini says. If the old model was more structure and specific information, the new model is to guide players without giving them all the answers. Players need practice at solving the problems, not rehearsing solutions.

“What is really important is that hockey IQ is not developed by telling players where to go,” Mancini said, “but by creating an environment in practice where the players are becoming aware of their surroundings, their situation and then making their own decisions for what is the best course of action in a particular place or time.”

Focus on the Player

Similarly, if past incarnations of sports – hockey included – have been more coach-focused, the current model tends to put the focus on players.

“What our coaches need to know in any sport at any level is that it’s not about them delivering information it’s about their players learning. That really is our focus with these kids,” Mancini said. “We’re saying that it’s about the child, not you the coach. What’s the best way for the child to learn and what should they be learning at the different ages.”

Declaration of Player Safety

Skill is Not the Same as Technique

Ken Martel, the ADM technical director, adds that it’s important not to equate skill with technique when teaching at the 10U level.

If the previous line of thinking was practicing the same specific technical maneuver exactly the same way over and over, the update to that is creating more adaptable players.

“We have a lot of people who can skate and handle the puck, but they can’t play. They can’t pull in information. We get caught up as coaches in putting them into isolated areas, working on technique and defined motor patterns, in a game that motor pattern doesn’t quite match up with what is needed,” Martel said. “They have to make adjustments, and if they haven’t done that in practice, they can’t adjust. It’s like the hope and prayer that the one thing will materialize out of 100 situations. That’s not how things really happen. Skill is really the ability to pull in information and read and act within the environment and execute a functional movement that solves that particular game problem.”

Reps Should Be Realistic

That line of thinking applies to how we construct 10U drills, which has been refreshed over time.

“One problem we have is players going through pattern drills and there’s no realism to it. The 5-on-0 breakout. Where’s the opponent?” Martel said. “Even at a young age we need to put players into situations where the real elements of the game are still there.”

So no cone drills, then?

“The best cone is another opponent,” Martel said.

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Tag(s): ADM Features