skip navigation

6U/8U: Unlocking Athleticism

06/12/2024, 3:00pm MDT
By Michael Rand

The Many Benefits of Multiple Sports and Free Play

In his youth, Scott Paluch remembers playing all sorts of sports. It wasn’t really a question of whether he would or not, says Paluch, now a player development director for USA Hockey.

“When I was growing up, it was just a part of what we did,” Paluch says. “You went from one sport to another.”

Being a well-rounded athlete came naturally, and it helped Paluch to a very successful college hockey career at Bowling Green.

What was natural in previous generations is still very much beneficial for modern hockey players. The message for athletes, particularly the youngest ones, to be well-rounded athletes – ideally with some of their play coming in unstructured environments – comes loud and clear from USA Hockey.


The difference these days, at least sometimes, is that what used to just be part of what kids did all the time now requires a level of intentionality.

For parents of 6U and 8U players who might be tempted to leave their kids on the ice year-round to focus on hockey, knowing that in fact it is beneficial to switch things up can be both a surprise and a welcome relief.

“There is so much value, both physically and societally, to playing different sports,” Paluch says. “You learn other athletic endeavors, you learn different movements, you use different muscles, you meet different people. You have different coaches.”


Some of the benefit is in the transfer of skills from sport to sport. But the greater athletic benefit is a general building of the core elements of balance, agility and coordination.

“The kids that can throw, strike, run, have body control, good confidence in themselves athletically, physical literacy, all of those things are important,” says Joe Bonnett, who like Paluch is a player development director for USA Hockey. “There's no doubt in our minds at USA Hockey that well-rounded athletes tend to be better hockey players as they get older.”

USA Hockey’s push for well-rounded athletes is not new, but it is a message that needs consistent reinforcement – especially as the traditional hockey season winds down.

“This has been out there and the numbers do bear it out, being a multi-sport athlete, especially at younger ages, the value that's there,” Paluch says. “It’s everything from injury prevention to just understanding, getting different movements, and more strength within your body.”


What might get less publicity but is also important is the idea of unstructured play for young kids. Free play combined with the exploration of multiple sports is a winning combination for athletes.

“There's great value for young kids that can manage a recreational environment themselves, being able to put together a game that actually works for them,” Paluch says. “It's competitive and fun to be finding ways to be successful in that environment. And there’s a sense of welcoming different players in. I think there's value and a lot of life skills that go into that.”

Adults often lament that kids don’t have enough free play these days. There is a lot of chatter and research about screens taking over times that might have been used for outdoor neighborhood games. And there is a sense that when kids are active, adults have a tendency to structure their play more than is needed.

With that, a little intentionality goes a long way – as does the recognition that kids are capable of managing their own experiences, and in fact are still doing so in 2024.

“I think that free play environment does still exist. I know a lot of times we always want to say, well, we don't think that's still happening, but it is still out there,” Paluch says. “I do agree that we certainly have a lot more structured environments than we may have had 20 or 30 years ago. But I do think there are people out there that recognize that there is value in allowing young athletes in a safe environment to manage their own recreational play.”


Tag(s): Home  News & Multimedia  Newsletters  ADM Features