Life is a series of transitions, and this is particularly true of childhood. We are simply learning more at the youngest ages than we do as we get older, while each additional year of life carries greater significance.
Think of it this way: Year 50 of your life represents just 2% of your total life lived to that point. But year 10 of life represents 10% of your total life lived to that point.
As such, we should expect great changes – and the capacity to adapt to them along the way. With that as a backdrop, let us consider a significant youth hockey transition: The jump from 8U to 10U.
Like anything, it represents just a step in a long progression. But being prepared is important to a successful transition.
Guy Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian and regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has several thoughts and tips for parents and players who are navigating that change this year.
The most obvious difference in making the leap from 8U to 10U is that in many cases the game changes from a cross-ice model to a full-ice model.
This can lead to some clunky moments early in a 10U season. Players used to working within smaller confines might initially cluster together on the ice, creating large swaths of open territory.
Don’t worry, Gosselin says. This will smooth itself out as players adapt. The most important thing is that they carry over the teaching points that cross-ice hockey at 8U was emphasizing.
“At 10U, there’s that switch from cross-ice to full-ice but the game itself doesn’t necessarily change,” Gosselin says. “Players are still working to navigate through small areas. That’s how we train, even with our older kids. Our game encompasses so many things in the area of fundamentals. … It’s about learning how to transfer all this work into game situations.”
A next-level jump that occurs in any sport is the ability to understand what is about to happen – or could happen – next as opposed to what is just happening in the moment.
That sort of feel for the game is a big part of 10U development and shows itself in many forms.
“Kids are still pretty new to this at 10U, and we’re talking about things like keeping your head up, being able to skate with your puck on the stick,” Gosselin says. “There’s growth in terms of anticipating what comes next.”
The ADM is more than a decade old, meaning the information about what works and what could be better is constantly evolving and being fine-tuned.
In preparation for answering questions related to that specific idea, Gosselin says he wrote down several notes. What he kept coming back to is this: the data tells us that the more coaches can make drills more game-like, the better off players will be in their development.
“If we can transfer our drills better, we will be much further ahead,” Gosselin says. “It’s about trying to guide our players to find things out on the ice instead of telling them this is exactly what you want to do. We want them to be creative and be able to make decisions.”
At 10U, that means a progression of the hallmarks of on-ice physical development – balance, agility and coordination – but it also means putting players in positions where they have to think the game rather than replicating instructions.
“The way we design our practices makes a huge difference in how we develop our players,” Gosselin says. “Overall, from a 30,000-foot view at this, I think if we get our kids moving and get those reps in and have them active, especially in practice, they’re going to excel.”
That all might be a lot to take in, particularly in the first couple months of 10U hockey. But Gosselin says players and parents shouldn’t treat the transition like a daunting task; rather, it’s simply the next step in a journey.
With the right tools and right attitude, players will continue to develop the mental and physical skills to succeed. And having those skills within the context of a supportive and fun environment will create passionate players who want to keep coming back year after year.
“It’s about the excitement and atmosphere we are trying to create,” Gosselin says. “We’re developing passion throughout, and we need to continue the excitement.”