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14U/16U: What Separates Good from Great

07/20/2022, 11:30am MDT
By Michael Rand

Small details and the extra time separate the good from the great.

The small details and the extra time put into a craft often separate the good from the great and the great from the elite.

It’s true in virtually every field. Put in the reps, sharpen your strengths, attack your weaknesses and improvement should follow.

That is particularly true with sports – and especially true with hockey. But for as much emphasis is placed on putting in the work, perhaps not as much time is spent on the question within the question: How is that extra time best spent?

Dan Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some answers to that for the critical 14U/16U age group of players.

Self Reflection

Jablonic, who played in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has a 14-year-old nephew with whom he talks about this very question. And the first step is self-reflection.

“I told him, ‘You’ve been playing for a while. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What things are difficult and what are easy?’” Jablonic says. “Write down some areas of improvement and then go seek out a coach or other players to put in a plan.”

Those types of things might originate from adults when skaters are younger. While they should certainly ask for input as they get older, there is a shift in accountability that should naturally occur.

“Once you get to 14U, 16U, you are taking responsibility for your development,” Jablonic says. “How can I work with my coach to address those areas of improvement. I think it’s important to look at it from a functional perspective. Especially at 14U, based on where they’re at, you’re meeting the needs of players where they’re at.”

It should be enjoyable, though – not a chore.

“Whatever you’re doing, keep it fun for yourself,” Jablonic says. “I have an opportunity to get better today. How can I keep it fun?”

Off-Ice Training

One specific area that can improve a player’s on-ice function is off-ice training. But again, there are several different things a player can do off the ice. What’s the best approach?

Jablonic suggests exercises and lifts that translate naturally to the sport itself.

“With off-ice training, we’re building that athlete and focusing on how to get faster and quicker,” he says. “It’s about flexibility and suppleness, the ability to move on the ice.”

Training without a focus or purpose defeats the purpose.

“If you put in an hour, are you an hour-better hockey player?” Jablonic asks.

Reps with a Purpose

To that end, Jablonic loves the idea of shooting extra pucks as a means of improvement. But that extra time should be crafted to maximize and simulate actual game situations.

“As we know, things are so quick in our game. How am I having my hands and body move in relation to what I’m thinking in my head,” Jablonic says. “Not just repetition shooting pucks, but building in some agility to that – some footwork, shooting off-balance on one foot, practicing pulling to my backhand.”

Those are the types of quick plays that lead to goals in real game action, so those are the scenarios that should get the extra work.

“Do I have to make a decision on where the open lane is to get into space?” Jablonic cites as an example. “Even at that level, practicing quick release, one-timers is important. You need to look at that approach and building out what happens in the game. Those players who hone those details, they can assess and see where they’re at.”

Holistic Approach

Part of putting in extra time is understanding that down time is also important.

“It’s important not only look at the physical side of getting better but the mental side,” Jablonic says. “How am I preparing on and off the ice? Am I getting the proper diet, the proper hydration, the proper amount of rest? There’s a lot of components that get overlooked and the holistic approach is important.”

The biggest takeaway of all, though? Do what’s right for you and not someone else.

“This is only a snap shot in time. Don’t get caught up in something that looks good on social media like a trick that’s not applicable to the game,” Jablonic says. “Think about practice and habits that transfer to my game.”

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Tag(s): ADM Features