Q: My twins, (boy & girl) will be aging out of 6U hockey next season and playing 8U. We have a large group of coaches at the 8U level and I will be helping with the practices. The other night a few of us were discussing what we think are the most important elements of 8U hockey and I was hoping to get your thoughts?
A: Your question reminds me of a conversation I once had with Dr. Stephen Norris, who is a renowned performance consultant and one of the world’s leading experts on long-term athlete development. I asked him “What is the most important stage of development for hockey players?” His answer was simple, “The stage they are at.” I refer to this conversation often as I think it really emphasizes how important it is for us as coaches to make sure that we are delivering the best programming for our players based on the principles of the American Development Model (ADM).
The most important thing at this age is to create a fun environment. Engaging the players in activities in which they enjoy is an incredibly important way to ignite the passion for the game in our youngest players and to build a foundation of skills for the future.
Once you and all the coaches have fully accepted this premise, stick to the A, B, C,’s (Agility, Balance, Coordination and Short burst multi-directional quickness) as a guide to improve skills as outlined in USA Hockey’s coaching materials. These are the building blocks for future success.
Lastly, allow for creativity and problem solving. Instead of doing drills with pre-determined outcomes, design activities that allow players to make independent decisions to solve the problems presented to them in practice.
Remember, this is not “just” 8U hockey; it is these kids’ most important stage of development.
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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