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6U/8U: Fostering a Love of the Game

07/20/2022, 11:15am MDT
By Michael Rand

In a world with seemingly limited options, some of the most daunting questions we often ask ourselves are along these lines: Are we doing the right things? Even if we are having good experiences, could they be better? And how do we even know?

That can lead to a healthy sampling of different course of studies, occupations and pastimes as we search for the things that truly make us happy. But it can also lead to a “grass is greener” mentality that never allows us to explore the full depths of any one thing.

That might sound like a heavy introduction for a discussion of 6U and 8U hockey players, but the same fundamental decision-making confronts parents as they watch their youngsters on the ice: Are they really having fun? Do they love this? Is it worth it to keep going or would they be happier trying something else?

To get to the root of those questions, USA Hockey’s Heather Mannix has some insights that are both professional and personal.

Time Is of the Essence

As she considered the topic, Mannix was reminded of a story from her own youth sports playing days. She was 6 years old, playing in little league as a shortstop, and she loved baseball until …

“I went down to field a ground ball and the ball hit a rock, bounced up and smoked me in the face,” recalls Mannix, who manages Female Hockey for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “And that was it. I hated baseball and I wanted to quit.”

But her parents could tell that while the single experience was unpleasant and bordering on traumatic, the moment would pass. They wouldn’t let her quit.

“One ground ball and I wanted to quit. But helping kids get through those rough spots – so even if they aren’t having fun in that moment – helping them stick with it is important. At the end of the day, they are going to figure out if they love it,” Mannix says. “I figured out I loved hockey more than baseball, but I played softball into middle school. Having parents help kids through those tough times is important.”

Make It Fun

Sports can become more serious as kids get older, but at 6U and 8U the main objective in fostering a love of the sport is fun. In case you needed an example, just watch this recent video of youngsters in Minnesota.

“Playing something for a year when you’re 6, that means you’ve been involved with it for one-sixth of your life. It makes sense that everything is so much bigger. Little challenges feel like huge challenges,” Mannix says. “It is a delicate balance of pushing kids into something they don’t want to do vs. helping foster a love of something.”

And the way to foster that love is to make it fun.

“The more serious it is at the younger ages, the harder it’s going to be to foster that love. If you can find those fun environments, it’s going to be easier for them to say they love it,” she says. “Hockey is unique. Unlike soccer or basketball or Little League you don’t have to learn a novel skill like skating. A lot of times with little kids it’s as simple as helping them develop the basic skills like skating.”

Let Kids Figure It Out

Young hockey players do seemingly goofy things on the ice. They daydream. They stop paying attention. Some of that is just the nature of the age. Some of it is how practices are arranged.

“Make sure the environment isn’t overly structured. As parents you should be watching to see if they are out there playing a game while practicing and learning skills,” Mannix says. “What makes it fun and why aren’t they having fun?”

Kids that age aren’t subtle.

“Figuring out what they don’t really love, and if there is a way to make a game to help them improve is important. If they don’t like it because their feet start to hurt, then maybe let them rest, take the skates off and then get back out there,” Mannix says. “At those ages, let them self-regulate. If they don’t want to play, they are going to sit down. And they’ll get up when their butts get cold.”

They Will Tell You

In the end, it often comes down to the same thing that much of parenting comes down to: being an expert when it comes to your own child.

“If they are having fun, it’s easier to answer that question. If they are having fun, they’re probably going to tell you they like it,” Mannix says. “It comes down to asking them. You know your kid. You know if it’s a phase. If you think there’s a way they can love it, try to figure out what’s making it not fun.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features