The Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with originally coming up with the oft-repeated expression, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”
This is true in many facets of life and in some cases hockey. If you are racing to get the puck near the goal crease and you start at the red line, you don’t first skate sideways and tap the penalty box.
Archimedes, though, had the luxury of dealing in the conceptual and mathematical – places where outside constraints could not influence behavior.
When it comes to a different facet of youth hockey – the improvement of young players – development is far from linear. In fact, the shortest distance between the 10U hockey player you see today and the one you hope to see tomorrow might not be a straight line.
To expand on the concept of how hockey development isn’t linear, let’s not rely on a mathematician born 2,300 years ago. Instead, let’s call upon Ken Martel, the technical director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
One of the reasons development doesn’t always follow a straight-line path is completely physical in that 10U players come in all different shapes and sizes, some might hit growth spurts, particularly as they get a little older.
“Every kid is at their own point, right?” Martel said. “It gets really apparent when kids are going through puberty – some sooner, some later.”
The best players at 10U might be those who have played the longest and have become comfortable with their skating strides. They might have to hit reset at some point.
“You’ll watch kids when they change,” Martel said. “You’ll see 10U players be pretty good skaters and then suddenly in a year or two their skating is out the window because of a growth spurt.”
A larger piece of the puzzle has to do with what kids are ready to hear and how they learn. Recognizing that nobody at 10U is close to being a fully formed person makes it easier to understand why 25 players might be on 25 completely different paths.
“Development doesn’t happen in a nice, straight line like people think – a lot of it comes back to what kids are ready for individually,” Martel said. “Some are socially and emotionally further along than others. They take a step forward and a step back.”
It’s part of the reason Martel says being a coach at an age level in youth hockey is perhaps harder than being a college or professional coach.
“The one thing we know about kids is they’re constantly changing. Once you think you’ve figured them out, they change again,” he said. “With topics you bring up to kids, you’ll see kids who don’t get it, don’t get it, and then boom – they get it at different times. Some get it faster or slower. What they connect the dots with is interesting.”
Once coaches understand that youth players, particularly at 10U, develop in a non-linear way it becomes critical that they exhibit patience when dealing with players.
“What’s good one day doesn’t necessarily work the next day. You’ll have a good practice and then the next day same drills, same concept and they’re not very good. What’s going on?” Martel asked. “You don’t know what their day was like. Sometimes they’re ready to jump into a session and learn. Sometimes they’re not. What the adult sees is we’re good and then not good. It’s just understanding and having some patience.”
It is important to recognize what is within your control versus what isn’t.
“I think the best analogy I’ve heard on some of this is that it’s like a bag of microwave popcorn,” Martel said. “They’re all kernels and they’re all going to pop eventually, but they don’t all pop at the same.”
Martel also urges adults to think about what development really means. It can stagnate if coaches move too quickly patching up holes instead of truly teaching.
“One of the big problems, especially at 10U, is there’s so much to teach, and what will happen is they’ll go to a game and some things don’t go well,” Martel said. “Then they think, ‘that’s what we have to work on’. Then the next game it’s something different. … The kids don’t get good at anything. They don’t spend enough time on it to actually learn it deeply and get good.”
That’s the difference between short-term success and long-term progress. The straight line might end up being the fastest route, but it’s not always the best one.
“What’s progress?” Martell asked rhetorically. “We’ll have a kid show up and do a drill and they’re good at it, but does it get transferred from short-term to long-term memory? The next practice you come back and they’re right back where they started. You don’t know if they’ve really learned until the next practice or the next game. Just because they’re good at it in the moment doesn’t mean it’s transferred over to the long-term. We’re shooting for that long-term.”
Tag(s): ADM Features