We’re more than a decade removed from USA Hockey’s introduction of the American Development Model – a program aimed at long-term development and quality coaching concepts – so there are fewer misconceptions about the ADM’s goals than there were at its outset in 2009.
Some of the most common misconceptions at the 8U level still persist in some form, says Kenny Rausch, former NCAA champion and USA Hockey’s director of youth hockey.
Rausch says the misconception that comes to his mind “immediately” is that 8U isn’t “real hockey” because it’s not played on a full ice sheet per ADM recommendations.
“People think it’s not real because it’s not full ice 5 on 5,” Rausch said. “But the reality is they’re making so many hockey plays that will certainly translate to the next levels.”
Much of the questioning comes from well-intentioned former players who grew up on big ice sheets, he says.
“I like to point out that when kids grow up on a lake or try to play pond hockey, it’s often covered in snow,” Rausch said. “Have you ever seen them shovel a 200 x 85 foot spot? No, they shovel a small area and play in a small area.”
Those small areas are similar to what is promoted at 8U – and help replicate some of the “pond hockey” skills of some of the sport’s greatest all-time players.
The analytics prove it: 8U cross-ice hockey is a ripe environment for kids to learn creativity, decision-making, time and space, navigating through traffic and get lots of puck touches, all of which helps keep the kids engaged and having a blast.
Rausch says another common misconception is that 8U players aren’t going to be taught how to play a position.
In some ways, perhaps, that’s true. They won’t learn one position. They’ll essentially learn every position on the ice in a sport that is evolving to be, at times, position-less.
“What we’re teaching with small areas is positioning and not just a position,” Rausch said. “Where you are in reference to the puck, your opponent, whatever the obstacles are, that’s how you develop hockey IQ so as players get older they can play any position and feel comfortable. Gone are the days where the left defenseman protects the net and only goes into the corner.”
Indeed, Rausch mentions a conversation he had with the father of Rasmus Dahlin of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Dahlin, a supreme puck mover who tallied 40 points in 59 games, didn’t become a full-time defenseman until the year before he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2018.
“We see the game at the highest levels now where two defensemen would make a pass to each other below the (opposing team’s) goal line,” Rausch said. “Back in the day if even one defenseman was down there, mom and dad were screaming ‘get back!’”
The final misconception that Rausch still deals with is adults fearing kids will get bored playing cross-ice hockey for long stretches.
“They think, ‘he’s been playing cross-ice for three years he must be getting bored.’ However, as long as the environment is correct and it’s fun, they will never be bored. To me that’s a myth. It’s something we put in their heads,” Rausch said. “With our high school teams we do almost nothing but cross-ice and they don’t get bored. Left to their own devices a 7- or 8-year-old would probably play in that format.”
Rausch notes that there are far fewer misconceptions or objections than there were a decade ago. Parents, coaches and rink operators have come around.
What ultimately changes minds is a combination of familiarity and results. European nations like Sweden have had great long-term success with some of the concepts of the ADM.
Rausch says we are seeing that here in the U.S. as well.
“We’re seeing some pretty high-end kids coming up. We’re seeing more kids stick with the sport because they’re having more fun in this environment at 8U. All those things are helping us,” Rausch said.