Q: Why does the ADM call for 8U players to use a smaller surface for games?
A: It’s important to consider, first, that it’s not really a revolutionary concept. Baseball, tennis, soccer and basketball – along with nearly every elementary school – scales its competition and learning environment to provide an optimal fit for 8-and-under children. It’s a basic tenet of child development.
As it relates directly to hockey, creating an age-appropriate playing surface for our players is beneficial in a number of ways.
By competing on a smaller ice surface, our children get to play a real hockey game that parallels what they will experience at older ages and more advanced levels of hockey, as opposed to games that more closely resemble a series of breakaways. On smaller surfaces, physical contact is increased, repetition of the most important skating and puck control skills are increased and the environment is better suited to the cognitive development of the players. All of this creates a better, more efficient learning and skill-development environment.
At the foundation of all this, is the philosophy of age-appropriate, age-specific training. As one of the cornerstones of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, this type of training program develops athletes through a process that integrates training, competition and recovery with science, borrowing from expert research on biological age, development and maturation.
The mission of the ADM is to help each boy and girl who joins a hockey program fulfill his or her full potential. Sport science shows that all players at 8U, regardless of their abilities or perceived abilities, should be exposed to the same age-specific training methods. By doing this, every player is optimally positioned to develop their skills and potential, and they have a whole lot of fun doing it.
It’s important for every hockey association, coach and parent to help create a positive, developmental environment for all players at 8U. Using an age-appropriate ice surface is a key component of that effort. Children that play in a fun, age-appropriate learning environment will not only strive to improve, but also be more likely to continue playing the game.
The author, Bob Mancini, is a longtime hockey coach and player-development expert. His experience includes two seasons in the NHL as an Edmonton Oilers development coach and more than a decade as a head coach in the NCAA Division I and OHL ranks.