You remember watching your child crawl for the first time. You experienced their first steps and first words. Then you tackled potty training. There’s a natural development path for young children as they grow. Not surprisingly, there’s a natural development path for young athletes, too.
You wouldn’t put your 3-year-old in kindergarten or start teaching them how to drive a car. In the same way, you shouldn’t force 14U-level conditioning regimens, systems or game schedules on your squirt-level player.
The USA Hockey windows of trainability outline time periods in which kids are most responsive to developing specific physical capacities. It’s like a roadmap with mileposts showing the optimal time to introduce specific training methods.
At 6U/8U, players weebled and wobbled around the ice as they learned to skate, gained quickness and honed basic movements. At 10U, players are primed for skill development, such as stickhandling, passing, skating and shooting. For boys, the skill acquisition window opens between the ages of 9 and 12. For girls, it’s between 8 and 11.
Skill development should always remain a priority, but kids at 10U will never be this receptive and responsive to skill development again. There’s a reason it’s considered the Golden Age of Skill Development. Don’t let them miss out on this opportunity.
“If we fail them at this age, we risk limiting their growth as a hockey player,” says USA Hockey ADM Technical Director Ken Martel. “It’s about taking advantage of things that are appropriate at different ages.
“Some kids learn quicker than others, and every kid’s a little different, but through these windows of trainability, whatever you’re set at, you have the ability to pick up age-specific things a bit quicker.”
The suppleness (flexibility) and first speed training windows (quickness) are still open and should continue to be emphasized at 10U, but skill development should now be the main focus.
Use these six tips to maximize the benefits of this trainability window and build a stronger foundation for your young athlete.
1. Repetition – Repetition, the mother of all learning, the mother of all learningis important at all ages and is one of the major components of cross-ice hockey. The more puck touches a player gets, the more that player learns. Use small groups and stations to maximize repetitions and keep the player engaged.
2. Decision-Making – Adults recognize that a bad pass or sloppy stickhandling can result in a turnover and potential scoring opportunity for the opposing team. At 10U, players should also start to identify and recognize this.
Increase the level of decision-making with more live-action game drills. Small-area games are the simplest method to build up a player’s cognitive abilities. Two-on-two challenges and drills that impart knowledge of the game will also help a player’s hockey sense and in-game awareness.
3. Make it a Challenge – Keep the drills, games and practices challenging.
“If it’s not challenging enough, they are going to lose focus real quick,” Martel said. “You want them doing drills that are fun and engaging, but they have to be challenging enough to hold their attention.”
Add an element of passing or random cones to an on-ice tag game. If they have passing down, incorporate that into a game where possession is key. Utilize these 10U practice plans for other fun games and drills.
4. Begin Off-Ice Training – Players can be introduced to off-ice training at this age. The focus shouldn’t be so much on a dryland-style training, but instead on the importance of exercise away from the ice.
“Kids need an hour of daily physical activity, moderate to rigorous, just to be a healthy kid,” said Martel. “Hockey can’t give them that alone, so what else are they doing?”
Fun games, hockey-related or not, are a way to keep players active and moving. Unstructured environments and free play with the team should be encouraged in off-ice training sessions.
“If they want to be good hockey players, it can’t just be what they do at the rink,” Martel said. “Kids can’t skate six or seven days a week at this age. But they can do other things in a different setting away from the ice.”
5. Build Athleticism – Hockey isn’t the only sport that players should be taking advantage of at this window. At 10U, players should be building up their overall athleticism.
“They are far enough along in their muscular growth that it allows them to start to perform with proper technique,” said Martel. “Their nervous system is developed far enough where they can work on more sports skills at this time.”
Shoot hoops in the driveway, play soccer at the local park or head to the cages for some batting practice. Players should teach their muscles and body a variety of athletic motions. As a result, they will be better equipped on the ice as they continue developing.
6. Go at Your Own Pace – Even at 10U, players are still in the beginning stages of the game. Some kids will learn and excel more quickly than others. Some will develop more slowly, but eventually surpass their teammates. There is no need to rush or panic at this age.
“The key here is the skill instruction,” said Martel. “Make sure they are learning the proper technique, and in the right way for them.”
Remember, every kid is different. Teach at a pace that is comfortable and conducive to where a player is now, not where we think they should be.
For more information on the windows of trainability and skill development, visit admkids.com.