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10U: Patience, Playing Time & the Transfer Portal

04/17/2024, 10:15am MDT
By Michael Rand

The Transfer Portal’s Greater Impact

The transfer portal in NCAA sports has made it far more possible – and likely – that college athletes will change teams, even multiple times, throughout the course of an amateur career.

Whether they are looking for more playing time, a different coach or just a change of scenery, college transfers are increasing in high-profile sports.

Whether this phenomenon is simply a reflection of society these days is debatable. What is not up for debate is that the normalization of changing teams at the highest levels has an impact on youth sports.

Even at relatively young levels like 10U, youth hockey players and their families are faced with decisions to questions that used to be far more automatic: Where to play next year?

It can create senses of both opportunity and anxiety because the answers often reside in gray areas rather than black-and-white.

In speaking recently to Joe Bonnett, a player development manager from USA Hockey, some key themes emerged as guideposts when navigating those questions.

Stay Patient

As Bonnett was pondering how the question of player movement applies specifically to 10U players, the first thing that came to his mind was the need to exercise patience.

There might be a temptation to want to find all the best situations all the time, but many times the answer is to keep building where you are.

It’s not always easy. Bonnett says he has had plenty of anxious and trying moments as he navigated the younger levels as a dad with his own three youth hockey players. But he came out on the other side realizing that the stress isn’t worth it.

“At USA Hockey, we are very comfortable knowing that we are in the business of grassroots growth and trying to get as many players to the base of the pyramid to see what matriculates up,” Bonnett says. “So for parents, we are asking them to be patient. Hockey is a late specialized sport, and we have to keep in mind the end game here.”

Many of the best 10U and 12U players are not the same at 16U and older. 

“It’s about development over a lifetime,” Bonnett says.

Avoid Just Following the Herd

“I think it’s gas on the fire, 100%,” Bonnett says of transfers at higher levels impacting movement at younger levels. “Whatever the pathway is, that’s what a community sees. And that’s what people are going to do.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ultimately, the right decision is one that’s best for your family and player. 

Bonnett again references his own experience as a dad of a youth player. Instead of switching associations one year in hopes of being on a higher-level team, his son thrived staying in the association on a team at a lower level.

“His love of the game tripled that year because he loved his role on that specific team,” Bonnett says. “It fit his skill set and his size as a smaller kid. I think rather than being parents focusing on the top team, focus on the team where your kid is really going to excel – in terms of leadership roles, in terms of performance, in terms of ability, in terms of success.”

Being able to participate and excel is fun, and it helps confidence grow.

“I think if parents understand what team their kids should be on at 10U, it will really promote hockey for them at 12U, 14U and beyond,” Bonnett says.

“If you're getting ice time, puck touches, quality coaching and quality off-ice training and your kid has a good time at the rink,” Bonnett says, “regardless of the win-loss record, there’s no need to make a change.”

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