skip navigation

Navigating Off-Ice Training at 6U/8U

09/08/2021, 9:30am MDT
By Michael Rand

Off-ice training should look different depending on the player’s age and time of year, says Roger Grillo, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

Those two things should seem like common sense, but sometimes in the rush to stay  involved or at least not fall behind we tend to forget these things.

Fortunately, Grillo has some reminders and pointers to help navigate the off-ice plan for 6U/8U hockey players in particular.

Offseason Is Different

During the summer, Grillo says, the most important off-ice activity is to simply keep moving – ideally in a lot of different settings, many of them unstructured.

“I think the offseason off-ice program for younger kids is just to be active,” Grillo said. “Playing baseball, lacrosse, swimming, hanging out with buddies and being active, etc. I don’t think it has to be structured in the offseason or like a practice.”

Different activities translate well to hockey, but more importantly they’re fun.

“It should be fun, competitive on their own terms, whether its some type of activity or another sport.” Grillo said. “For me, the offseason is the offseason and they should be focused on having fun.”

Agility and Balance Key

If it’s during the 6U/8U season, the ADM “strongly encourages,” Grillo said, a program once or twice a week – ideally right before or after hockey practice – to help with core athletic fundamentals.

“Some sort of agility, coordination, balance activity that incorporates jumping and change of direction,” Grillo said. “It’s because of the lack of PE in schools. It’s just to add to that base of athleticism.”

Specifically, Grillo says, a good recreational gymnastics program or tumbling program is great for promoting the sorts of changing direction, stability, agility and balance that a hockey player will need to succeed.

“You’re asking a young athlete to be a good skater. A lot of times people think that’s just on the ice, but the ability to stay balanced on a quarter-inch blade of steel is a pretty big deal,” Grillo said. “The more comfortable they are with their balance, agility and coordination the easier that transition is going to be.”

More As You Get Older

Grillo notes that parents of 6U/8U players might be tempted to put their kids into a lot of different off-ice programs because they think they need to accelerate their learning.

Grillo says it should be just the opposite: kids at 6U/8U should do less off-ice training than players at 14U/16U, for example.

“Unfortunately, in some places it’s the same at 8U as 14U, which maybe means 8U is doing too much and 14U are not doing enough,” Grillo said. “The pyramid should be upside. If you’re going from youngest to oldest, it shouldn’t be a square. It should be an upside-down pyramid where you’re doing less early and more later. Unfortunately, we find it’s more of a rectangle and the same thing at 8U and 14U. It shouldn’t work that way.”

A quality off-ice program at 14U/16U, for instance, is critical to taking big steps forward. But at 6U/8U, Grillo reiterates, it should be primarily about staying active.

Build Passion on Their Terms

Grillo also notes that 6U/8U players who want to mix in some ice time with their summer of activity should feel more than welcome to do so if ice is available.

“We don’t want to say don’t go on the ice in the summer, but we don’t like when the summer ice looks like winter ice. It shouldn’t be showcase games and big tournaments,” said Grillo, who played for the University of Maine in the early 1980s. “If you really took the amount of time my generation skated during the year, it would be quite a bit, but it was unstructured. Something on their terms is perfectly okay.”

If you’re still not sure what to do: Let common sense prevail.

“Some of our programming is based on other federations and some of it is stuff that if you just sit and talk about it, it’s common sense,” Grillo said. “Just treating little kids like kids and being patient with player development — making sure that player development is a priority, but building passion. That’s just as important in their development.”

Player Development News

Tag(s): ADM Features