My son’s Pee Wee coach insists on using a lot of small area games in practice to teach the kids to fore-check, breakout, etc. Is this the best way for him to teach these parts of the game to kids at this age?
Bob Mancini: Absolutely YES! Using small area games is a great way to teach players of any age both the individual and team concepts of team play.
Players at the 12U age group are in the “Learn to Train” stage of Long Term Athlete Development. This stage is highlighted by continued development of spatial awareness, decision making skills and in general, hockey sense. The way coaches go about teaching the concepts of the game at this age will have a long lasting effect on the players ability to read plays and make decisions. By using small area games to teach concepts, your coach is providing the players with the best possible environment to train their ability to be successful in game situations. Small area games puts the players in a game-like competition while teaching them to combine their individual skills in situations where their awareness and decision making skills are also put to the test. While this method may take a little longer for the players to master the concepts that the coach is teaching, once learned, these concepts will be more ingrained in the players on-ice make-up. In addition, the use of small-area games is a great way for your coach to get an increased number of repetitions for each player while emphasizing the competitive nature of the game in an engaging environment.
Lastly, all coaches at this level should remember that the importance of skill development is still a high priority at this age. Players are still in their “‘golden age of skill development” where they will continue to make great strides in their technical skill. USA Hockey continues to encourage all our coaches to make sure that they continue to spend 50% of their practice time on individual skill development when it comes time to introduce the teaching of game play concepts.