Brianna Decker has won “chips” at almost every level of the game of ice hockey. Playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, she led her team to three USA Hockey 19U National Championships. She scored a NCAA title at the University of Wisconsin. Internationally, Decker captured an Olympic gold medal and two IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championships. She has represented the United States in three Olympic Games, winning gold in 2018.
To say Decker knows a thing or two about what it takes to win would be a gross understatement. Now an associate head coach of the girls’ prep team at her alma mater Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota, Decker shares her deep hockey knowledge with teenage skaters on a regular basis. As she helps the program get ready for the upcoming season, Decker took the time to offer her perspectives on the all-important 14U/16U age group – what players in this age group should be working on, what talent evaluators notice and what separates good from great.
USA Hockey: How would you define the 14U/16U years in a players' career development path?
Decker: It’s a critical time, a turning point. I would say that 14U and 16U are crucial development years for a player. It's years in a players’ development where they are learning the game more than anything, and they have the ability to go out and adjust to the coaching that they get in practice.
USA Hockey: How is it different from 12U and 18U?
Decker: 12U and 18U are extremely different. At 18U, it’s because the athlete is more mature, the pace of the game is faster, skill level is higher and physicality is higher. The ability to make plays is harder, which separates players who have an elite hockey IQ versus players who lack hockey IQ.
USA Hockey: What do players need to be aware of as they work their way up?
Decker: I think one thing that players need to understand is that once you start getting into the higher levels, there are other great players out there and things only get harder.
USA Hockey: What are some things that 14U/16U players should be focusing on?
Decker: I think at 14U and 16U you should be focusing on the ability to be creative and make plays. I think there needs to be a balance between skill development and understanding things like concept development, creativity and IQ development. These are things that will help players be better away from the puck.
USA Hockey: Players at this age are often thinking about the next level. What things do talent evaluators notice at this age?
Decker: Evaluators notice the little things on the ice, such as working hard, stopping on pucks, backchecking, awareness without the puck, defending and the ability to make plays.
USA Hockey: What separates good from great at this level?
Decker: I believe what separates good from great are the abilities to see the ice and create plays, to take care of the little details every shift and play with consistency.
USA Hockey: How does hockey help develop the overall human?
Decker: Looking back at my career, I believe that a lot of the hockey development I had helped me with life skills as well. I think there is a balance, but they overlap quite a bit.
While Decker's role at SSM is coaching high-school-age players, her charitable Brianna Decker Endowment for Girls Hockey focuses on the 8U-10U levels, providing grants to organizations around the country to help develop programs focused on increasing female youth participation in the sport. For more information on the program, visit https://www.usahockeyfoundation.com/deckerfund.