The relative chaos of some 6U or even 8U hockey practices and games comes about for a variety of reasons, with the main culprit being a wide gap in size and ability between relative newcomers to the game.
Some of what also looks a bit chaotic is that hockey instincts tell players they should go chase the puck, so you might get a convergence in a corner of almost everyone on the ice.
That instinct to go get the puck isn’t necessarily wrong. It just needs to be refined, because as much as we think about positions on the ice, Roger Grillo thinks about them a little differently.
As such, Grillo is an advocate for having 6U and 8U players try every position on the ice – yes, even goalie – to become better players.
Part of what might look disorganized in a youth hockey game is also a fundamental way the game is played these days – and how it has been played informally for decades.
“Myself and my coworkers’ opinion is it’s really two phases of the game,” says Grillo, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “You either have the puck or you don’t. You’re either working to get it back or working to support it and score.”
As such, teaching players multiple positions – and teaching them to value both offense and defense in the process – is important.
“It kind of goes back to the outdoor rink. You didn’t play a position. You were either trying to score or get the puck back,” Grillo says. “All those decisions, all those reads and athletic pieces to either score or get the puck back, that’s hockey. All that stuff that adds up. If kids are taught to know where to stand, they probably won’t be effective because there are a million different scenarios that come up in ice hockey. Where is the right place to stand? There’s no correct answer – other than based on where the puck is, where teammates and opponents are.”
That said, specific positions to convey a sense of responsibility on the ice. To that end, it’s important for every player to try every position.
“Once you introduce specific positions, even at 8U, there shouldn’t be any position – exception of goalie, and that should be shared by a lot of kids who want to try it,” Grillo says.
There are numerous benefits, including seeing the game a different way.
“Seeing the game from different patterns and angle and sides,” Grillo says. “I think that’s really important.”
Should players really try goalie, too? Yes, Grillo says.
“We’ve been pushing that for a long time now,” he says. “I would say there are a couple reasons it’s important. One is to just build a bigger base of kids who might be passionate about the position. Two, there’s the athletic part where you’re forcing kids to do something different. They’re involved in the game a little more. And then third and probably the most important thing from my opinion is they learn patterns. The best goalies aren’t always most athletic or technical, they just know how to read the patterns of the game and could read the potential situations and thought processes of the other players.
What if someone at 8U is really passionate already about being a goalie? Should that player be allowed to focus only on being in the net?
“My answer is that if someone wants solely to be a goalie let him be a goalie,” Grillo says. “But encourage him to do other things in practice and in games. So to me it’s not necessarily an age it’s where the kid’s mindset is. But the longer you can let them experience the other aspects of the game the better.”
Having players try multiple positions is another step in emphasizing development over systems.
“Once you introduce positional play it goes to team and goes away from individual player development,” Grillo says. “That’s a really young age to focus on team development. If you’re focused on team development, you can have success but are you measuring it by wins and losses or player development?”
Tag(s): ADM Features