There’s one main reason we all play hockey: because it’s fun. Whether you’re 10 or 110, if you’re not having fun, why continue to play?
But a mentality that players who perform better on the ice should get more playing time eliminates that enjoyment. It also prevents development. Winning should never take precedent over development at 10U.
It’s not fun for kids to sit on the bench while their friends and teammates are on the ice. It’s not fun for parents to see their kids receive less playing time than the others.
“The most important reason we want kids to play hockey is because it’s fun, especially at the 10-and-under age,” said 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team assistant coach Hilary Witt. “Not playing is not fun. The less they play and the less fun they have, the less likely they are to come back to hockey the following year.”
Hang-ups on ice time and unequal shifts hinder the game for squirts in a handful of ways. Skill development, team bonding and fun all require a fair amount of playing. That’s why equal ice time at 10U is so important.
Some players may show more potential at nine or 10 years old than others, but coaches need to develop all of their players. That should be the main goal. What happens at the end of the season or when the perceived best player is out sick?
If the team is only relying on one or two players to be successful, then that is a disservice to the entire group.
Kids that excel now won’t necessarily still be a shining star four years from now. All players develop at their own pace. Allow them to make mistakes and learn the game, no matter the final score.
“They are at too young of an age to judge between good and great,” said Witt, also head scout of women’s hockey at USA Hockey. “Some kids peak at different ages, so I don’t think it’s fair to think one is better than the other right now.”
Players aren’t learning by sitting on the bench. They need to get in the game and get the experience needed to grow, develop and love the game.
Hockey teams build friendships that can last a lifetime. At 10U, kids are at an age where they notice when things aren’t fair. Jealousy can spark when one is playing more than another.
“If you start to have unfair playing time, some of those friendships that kids are building on their hockey team can get damaged, too,” said Witt. “They start to get frustrated with one another or they recognize it’s not fair that Johnny is playing more than Timmy.”
Players should be on the ice playing together rather than competing against one another for ice time. Keeping line shifts even will help keep the team balanced, too.
Playing for FUN
It always comes back to fun. Players, parents and coaches should keep that in mind. If they don’t, the kids might not either.
“If you as a parent are focused on playing time, then your 9 or 10-year-old is going to be focused on that, too,” said Witt. “At that age, playing time is the last thing they should be focused on.
”Let them focus on fun and learning the game with their friends. It should be their main focus now and for a couple more years to come.”