Ask any 10-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll likely hear them rattle off a dozen different “dream jobs.” No one said they have to pick one and settle on it for life.
Just like you don’t have to decide on one career path, you don’t have to decide on one hockey position right now either.
You Won’t Know Until You Try
“It’s simple,” says Bob Motzko, head men’s ice hockey coach at St. Cloud State University. “At a young age, you don’t know what your best position is. And you won’t know for sure without actually trying them all.”
A father of three, Motzko believes trying different positions only enhance development for players growing up. He sees that in his own kids.
“My own 9-year-old wants to be a goalie this year,” said Motzko. “I told him he’ll find out in time if it’s something he desires or if it’s not. I want my sons coming up and playing different positions until they find out where they’re most comfortable.”
Creativity and Hockey Sense
Teaching a specific position too early may hinder a player’s creative development on the ice. Playing defense and forward (wing and center) growing up will do wonders for a young player’s hockey sense.
Putting a forward back on defense allows them to play the point, defend odd-man rushes and look for a breakout pass while retrieving the puck in their own zone. Defensemen playing up will get a chance to forecheck opposing defensemen, develop net-front presence and understand defensive-zone coverage from a different perspective.
These are just a few different aspects of the game young players can expose themselves to without the pressure of “winning the big game.” This is all about development. Playing different positions will make them better, smarter hockey players overall.
Versatility is Attractive
Coaches look for versatility when players get older. Injuries, team needs or a cramped depth chart might require some players to take on a different position from time to time.
“Absolutely you want a player that is versatile,” said Motzko. “Someone that is flexible to move around at the college level – or any level – is great.”
Prime examples of this are seen at all levels, including the NHL. Dustin Byfuglien, a defenseman by nature, was moved up to forward during the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks playoff run. It paid off big time. He played a crucial role in helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Now, he’s back on defense with the Winnipeg Jets.
More Ice Time = More Fun!
By being able to move around and show versatility, players might eventually see more ice time as they get older. Playing time should be equal at 10U, but as 14U/16U and beyond approaches, the competition and intensity increases.
Different teams have different needs. Maybe the team is stacked at forward, but is looking for someone to step up on the blue line. Maybe a third-pairing defenseman can jump into a third-line role as a forward.
Still, especially at 10U, the most important thing is having fun with your friends on the ice. Skill development and a love of the game is main focus, and playing different positions is a great tool to help kids accomplish just that.
“At the younger ages, the biggest benefit of playing around is just finding what kind of hockey player you are and where you’re having the most fun,” said Motzko.