Q: Are 16U players too old for small-area games?
A: “Repetitio mater studiorum est.” Repetition is the mother of learning. Hockey players of every age learn by doing. By implementing high-activity station-based practices and small-area games into your practice routine, there will be more doing, and consequently, more learning. You will create an environment that develops your players’ hockey skills dramatically and efficiently.
Small-area games provide the opportunity to work on specific game concepts in tighter spaces, allowing the game situation to occur at higher frequencies than it would during a full-ice game. From 8U to the National Hockey League, small-area games provide increased repetitions of a specific skill or game concept, all within a fun and competitive environment. Click here to see examples of small-area games that will help your players develop their overall hockey skills and their grasp of game concepts.
Just as advancements in medical science have improved surgical success rates and recovery times over the past quarter-century, so too have advancements improved sports science, providing a better understanding of children’s cognitive patterns and age-appropriate training methods.
No patient would chose to have knee surgery with the outdated science of 25 years ago, so why do some coaches still use training methods and practice habits from 25 years ago? Player development methods have changed for the better. Long gone should be the days of one team on the ice and drills that only utilize two or three players at a time while the remaining 15 players stand idle. NCAA hockey teams, AHL teams and NHL teams all have 25 to 30 grown men practicing on the same sheet of ice, yet some youth coaches still think having 30 mites, squirts, or bantams on the same ice is wrong. It’s past time to embrace the progressive methods of modern sports science.
One properly run station-based practice provides the same amount of puck touches, passing, shooting, and skating as 11 games combined. Whether you are an 8U player, travel hockey player, or Tier I 16U player, skill development is paramount and will be the determining factor of your future success in hockey. Skill development comes from repetition. Repetition comes from increased frequency of puck touches. There’s no better way to increase the frequency than through station-based practices and small-area games.
Walk into any NCAA or NHL practice and you will see coaches teaching game concepts and systems through small-area games. Placing your players in a condensed area, where decision making, puck touches, and hockey plays occur faster than on a full sheet of ice, greatly increases their acquisition of game concepts. Players are exposed to a higher concentration of specific patterns that repeatedly force them to learn the specific game concept the coach is teaching. If your players can execute these game concepts consistently in a small area, with less time and space, the full-ice game will slow down in the players’ minds.
There are countless examples of small-area games being used regularly by NHL coaches. Click here to see one end-of-practice drill from the Tampa Bay Lightning and click here to see the Anaheim Ducks run a one-on-one small-area game.
Remember, players learn by doing – all players, regardless of age. They need to be in an environment where they perform quality, numerous repetitions of any given hockey skill or game concept. Station-based practices and small-area games provide that environment, in a fun and competitive fashion, and they position every player to reach his or her full potential.