One of the biggest challenges of playing hockey is also one of its greatest rewards.
Simply put: hockey is not easy. It requires a fundamentally different set of specific skills – namely, the ability to skate and to perform other athletic maneuvers while on skates – than other sports. As a result, it often takes longer not only to master the finer points of hockey, but also to even become good at them.
Within all that struggling and failing, there is learning and growing – with the benefits of sticking with hockey through the tough times leading to so many lessons learned and rewards gained in the process.
That’s important to remember for parents and players particularly at the 10U level, as kids enter the golden age of skill development but traverse through it at much different speeds.
Dr. Michael Kanters, a professor at North Carolina State who has studied the impact and importance of youth sports, has some tips and thoughts about how to navigate the way through that time of growth.
To understand why some young players might be tempted to leave hockey before they have had a chance to develop and grow into better players, we must first understand what motivates kids to want to do things. At the top of the list: fun.
“Enjoyment is the driving factor,” Kanters said. “If a child isn’t enjoying it in some way, they aren’t going to stick with it.”
Fun comes in many forms. Are they getting to spend time with friends? Do they look forward to going to the rink because they are engaged? One key element is that if we aren’t having success doing something, it won’t be fun. That’s what can trigger the temptation to want to give up instead of work harder.
“The other part of enjoyment that’s fundamental is we need to be good at it,” Kanters said. “This part is often overlooked -- especially with something skill-based and all sports are skill-based. If we aren’t good at it, it’s extremely unlikely we will stick with it.”
So how do we make hockey fun when it seems like success is a long way off? Is it possible to build self-efficacy and the satisfaction that “motivates us to work harder and go back” when it’s hard to see tangible progress?
Let’s think about it a different way, Kanters says: With more incremental progress markers along the way, it’s easier for kids to see how they are improving. That in turn will keep them having fun, coming back for more and learning those valuable lessons about hard work paying off.
That happens to be a key facet of USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“Kids want to play games and it’s hard to hold them back, but you don’t want them to have a negative experience. That’s why I’m such a fan of the ADM. It allows long-term development and there’s a great stepped approach where with each component you build in success,” Kanters said. “Look, you did this drill. You build success in at a smaller scale. It’s important to show the child that they have achieved success. Then before they know it, they’re playing games and they see they are reasonably good at it.”
Motivation can’t just be internal, particularly at 10U. Kids that age are gaining access to a wider range of opportunities.
“With 10-year-olds, they need that external validation,” Kanters said. “With hockey – you see it, I can skate better, forward to backward now, but when the coach and parents validate that improvement, then it becomes even more real and the enjoyment gets elevated even more.”
Ability plays a big role, Kanters notes, but so does support. Hockey is Kanters’ “first love,” and he has tried to spread the word while living in North Carolina.
“Having that supportive environment is critical at that age,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to do it without support. It’s more than just the physical driving to the rink, but that encouragement. It can’t be false encouragement at that age. Kids recognize it at that age. It’s a constant balancing act.”
Even with all the support and steady improvement, 10U players are going to get frustrated at times. As Kanters says, there are so many things to work on along the way – in what he says is not an “easy entry sport” in the way that soccer is.
“There are going to be times where you are frustrated. Hockey lends itself to that,” Kanters said. “Kids might think ‘I’m never going to get it.’”
But the payoff is undeniable.
“It’s absolutely worth it,” Kanters said. “Because it’s a little harder. If you can achieve that goal of being able to play that game, you get the satisfaction of, ‘Look what I did!’ I learned how to skate, carry a puck while I skated, learned how to go from forward to backward. It’s a great feeling.”
Tag(s): ADM Features