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6U/8U: A Safe Return to Hockey

07/15/2020, 4:30pm MDT
By Michael Rand

As he talked recently about the benefits of hockey from the perspectives of USA Hockey and as a parent of young children, Dan Jablonic struck on the intersection of both.

Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, was at a playground with his twin 6-year-olds – one boy, one girl – talking about the lessons learned through the sport he loves.

“Our kids, when they tried hockey, they knew it was okay to fall and get back up,” Jablonic said. “My son just went to the big boy bike. He fell down and said ‘just like hockey. I fell and I’ll get back up.’ That’s a transfer of skills that’s so easy to see.”

Indeed, as parents and kids start to navigate a safe return to the sports in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, hockey stands out in so many ways as an excellent choice for both returning players and new ones – particularly at the youngest 6U and 8U levels.

The emphasis on fun and lessons learned are part of the story. So, too, is the social, emotional and physical well-being of playing a team sport in a safe environment.

Having Fun Is Key

The ADM stresses fun as an essential component of hockey, and considering fun has been in short supply in recent months, that’s extra important right now.

“Fun is at the forefront,” Jablonic said. “When you look at our sport, it doesn’t matter, 6U or 8U, or Mark Sertich who is 98 and playing up in Duluth. I mean, you’re on edges and on ice. The ability to really dig in and glide, you almost get that feeling of being a superhero flying around the ice and it’s so much fun.”

Plenty of other sports are fun, but hockey brings a unique kind of joy just by its very nature.

“It leads to the confidence in kids and the ability to really get up and do something not everybody can do,” Jablonic said. “You’re on four edges on a slippery surface, and as you progress there’s contact and other people trying to do the same thing at the same time, all while trying to maneuver, pass, score a goal. The fun component is huge.”

Life Lessons Learned

In all sports, there will be successes and failures, but hockey requires a certain specific kind of perseverance when you are first learning how to play and skate.

“As you get into it, you fall down and get back up,” Jablonic said. “Hockey teaches persistence and those are huge life lessons for kids, especially at 6U or 8U, to build confidence, fail, get back up, have those true qualities and have that work ethic. Those are things that are qualities for successful adults.”

Those lessons are learned in a team environment, which is great right now – more on that in a minute – and great long-term.

“It keeps that positive attitude through life,” Jablonic said. “You not only develop the individual skills but do it in a team dynamic, which is huge.”

Social and Physical Well-Being

While going through varying degrees of distancing and isolation has been hard for everyone, it has been particularly disruptive for kids. The peer groups and activities that were once routine through school, sports and other activities largely went away. Their lives became in many ways more sedentary and limited.

Naturally, kids miss seeing other kids. Hockey is a great way to fill that gap.

“As we ask kids what they miss about hockey, the answers are a lot the same,” Jablonic said. “They say, ‘I miss my teammates, friendships, being a part of something and being part of a team. You’re setting a common goal that it takes to achieve. Even for the youngest kids, they miss their buddies.”

Those friendships are often more memorable than the games themselves.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the skills are going to be somewhat secondary, but the number one thing is the mentality kids learn through hockey and having that core friendship,” Jablonic said. “They’re doing an activity with a friend. I still talk to buddies I played 8U hockey with.”

Safety and Peace of Mind

As kids return to rinks, USA Hockey recognizes that safety on multiple fronts is essential. Health guidelines must be strictly followed, the layoff from hockey needs to be considered and everyone must recognize that families will move at the pace they think is appropriate.

“Some people they are rushing back to the rink right now – and that’s okay as long as the rink is following the right guidelines,” Jablonic said. “But other people want to enjoy the summer, just like we promote, and when it’s right for them then they come back in the fall and winter season. We’re not going to tell people exactly when to go to it but we’re taking every precaution that we can.”

Because getting back to the rink – or trying hockey for the first time – is important, but staying on the ice is even more important.

“It’s not just hockey guys sitting around talking – they’re consulting health officials. Every district is a little different, but you look at what the local health guidelines are and make sure you stick to that,” Jablonic said. “We’re going to keep within these guidelines so the experience is safe for the kids and they’re getting the activity they need.”

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