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How to Develop Hungry Hockey Players

09/18/2020, 11:15am MDT
By Michael Rand

Confidence is a key ingredient in creating hungry, competitive 12U players

Confidence is a key ingredient in creating hungry, competitive 12U players – and it is acquired through various means, says two-time U.S. Olympian Guy Gosselin.

“At that age a lot of these kids are thinking, ‘do I really want to continue?’” said Gosselin, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “There’s a lot of things you’re dealing with – like anxiety maybe – and you want to create some confidence in that 12U player.”

Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Game

A big piece of confidence is acquiring skill and that’s a significant part of the 12U model, Gosselin says.

“If you take a look at the long-term development model, they’re refining technical skills at that age,” said Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian. “It’s kind of the start of getting into routines like dynamic stretching before playing, tapping into range of motion and body weight exercises and refining technical skills and more decision-making is coming into play right now.”

All of those things are geared toward creating stable, confident players that can maintain possession.

“When a kid is stable on the ice and can gain that confidence to possess the puck is important,” Gosselin said. “That’s what we’re pushing today – it’s a possession game and kids need to be able to possess. When you excel at that, you’re going to stick around.”

Body Confidence

A competitive player knows that it is essential to work in the “dirty” areas of the ice like the corners and along the wall without being a dirty player.

At 12U, this means the continuation of the body contact progression and understanding that working in small areas will be rewarded.

“The body contact progression starts at 8U,” Gosselin said. “Body contact is important. Being okay with the environment that you’re in, understanding it’s okay to bump, having a good idea on angling and safety in the danger areas.

“When you see that with the progression, kids become more confident on the ice. They’re excited about the game. They kind of know the path and figure it out a little. You really excel when you see the benefits of developing contact confidence.”

Fun Is Essential

Perhaps an overlooked ingredient in creating hungry players is a simple one: fun. No, having fun is not at odds with being competitive or wanting to win. Those things can – and should – coexist as coaches figure out how to unlock the fun of playing 12U hockey.

“Fun looks a lot different at 12U than it does for a 25-year-old,” Gosselin said. “You need to understand the age you’re coaching and what is exciting for a 12U player. Kids at 8U love to play tag, whereas 12U might love to play small-area cross-ice. It depends on the game and what twist you put on it.” 

There isn’t an age group in any sport that doesn’t want to enjoy their time playing.

“As long as they’re having fun, don’t turn it into a job,” Gosselin said. “Everyone wants to have fun no matter what level you’re at. It depends on the individuals on your team – the skill sets and overall holistic mentality you have on your team.”

Draw Out the Natural Hunger

Not every player has the same internal motor. Some might seem more naturally competitive than others and give maximum effort every second of practice. Those players can be good examples for teammates, but all players deserve to have the experience of growing and learning, Gosselin says.

“Intrinsic drive is kind of a natural thing. You can lead by example on the ice,” he said. “It’s different with everybody. When the effort is there, intensity is there and they love being a good teammate, that’s when teams excel. I think some of those natural characteristics come out without having to say anything about it.”

In the end, it’s all about trying to give players structure without boxing them in – helping them become better without taking away their creativity.

“Stretch them but don’t overwhelm them,” Gosselin said. “And don’t make it too easy because that won’t serve them in the long run.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features