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10U: Playing Time, Pressure & Development

12/16/2021, 4:15pm MST
By Michael Rand

We are all competitive. We all want to win – and perhaps that sentiment is even stronger among kids. As the parent of a 7-year-old who won’t go to bed until she’s won the final card game of the night, this sentiment hits close to home.

Part of life is learning that there’s a balance between the gratification of the moment and what might be best in terms of a long-term lesson. (That’s why the 7-year-old has to earn her victories, except for those rare occasions when dad is really tired).

That sentiment shows up in how we think about 10U hockey and why playing time for everyone is more important at that age than lighting up the scoreboard or even simply winning games.

To help explain the nuance of what that means, we asked Roger Grillo and Guy Gosselin – both of whom are regional managers for USA Hockey’s American Development Model – for their expertise.

Development Isn’t Linear

Part of the reason it’s important to divide up playing time equally is that development is not linear. The best player at 10U might not be the best payer in two or three years. Kids that grow faster or have more experience at that age often are eventually caught or passed by late bloomers – but only if those late bloomers have access to the ice as they are developing.

“It’s not only for kid who might be slower, but the kid who might get better,” Grillo says. “Because someday the tables might be flipped. You don’t know where those kids are going to be in five or six years.”

Gosselin echoes that sentiment.

“You have no idea what a player at 10U is going to be at 18U or 14U for that matter,” he says. “So we want to give everyone an opportunity to succeed by being involved and getting their fair share of playing time.”

Winning Is Still Valued

Grillo is quick to say that USA Hockey’s messaging on this concept should not be construed as de-emphasizing winning. Rather, it’s an attempt to prioritize short-term gains vs. long-term gains. And there is a way to achieve both.

“For me it’s a really easy answer,” Grillo says. “Every game you coach, every situation you go into you go in to win. We are absolutely not saying don’t be competitive. What we would say is don’t take the shortcuts to the short-term win that have a long-term negative effect.”

Shortcuts might include using your best players a lot more than less-developed players. That might help win a game, but it’s going to have negative long-term consequences for development.

“Most of the adults know the right thing,” Grillo says. “They can’t succumb to that pressure. It’s common sense.”

Mix Lines for Different Looks

To that end, a fair distribution of playing that also aids in development can also include mixing and matching line combinations so it’s not always the best playing with the best.

“To me, I roll with the next five up, whoever’s up next goes,” Grillo says. “At 10U, it’s a combination of everything. Mix it up. Have your better players play together, separate your better players. I think just like positional play, getting kids to understand who they’re playing with is important. You need to continuously change environments so kids can adapt.”

Participation Is Important

The most important reason to emphasize participation within the context of being competitive is that it’s fundamental to the reason kids want to play hockey – and the path to getting them to want to keep playing.

“Do it because kids sign up to play hockey to play hockey – not to sit on the bench,” Gosselin says. “With kids at 10U, everyone needs to participate. When that happens we’re going to retain more players.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features