When you spend countless hours at the rink, it’s hard not to get caught up in where your team ranks in the league standings.
However, in younger age groups like the 12-and-under level, the focus of your ice time should be on individual skill development and not on the win column, according to RPI head coach Seth Appert.
“I think that for youth hockey at any level, but especially at the 12U level, it’s just absolutely critical that the players are getting better and they’re working on their individual skill development in their practices and then allowed to do that in their games, even if that means a few less victories.” Appert said. “It’s really critical to their long-term development.”
Appert, a Ferris State alumnus and former assistant coach at Denver, said that he sees too much pressure to play more games and record more wins at the 12U age group. He wants hockey coaches to focus on producing better players and teach them what makes the sport so special.
“At the end of the day, you need to make players better, and you need to help instill a respect and a love for the game,” Appert said. “If you make your players individually skilled better, and you help foster their love and respect for the game of hockey, that’s an absolute win.”
The longtime RPI bench boss noted that he’s not even close to recruiting players at the 12U level, because he wants to see how players develop as they age, not what their stats look like during their middle-school years.
Case in point: Appert’s younger brother, Luke, was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year in baseball, but he wasn’t even the best player on his 12U youth team.
“If you had looked at his 12U or his 14U baseball team in the small town of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, and you said, ‘There’s a future Big Ten Player of the Year out in the field,’ he would have been either the fourth or the fifth pick, just on his own hometown team, because he hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet, and he just kept getting better.
“I think that’s just a great example of how we get carried away in youth sports at how good and how important the games are at that age and how much winning is important at that age. We lose sight of the skill development and also the love and respect for the game.”
Playing time should also be equal at the 12U age level, according to Appert.
“I think equal playing time, in my opinion, for 95 to 98 percent of the game, I’m a big believer in that. I’m OK with in the last minute of the game, or the last minute of a period, making alterations or shortening the bench, but only in those small tiny instances where you’re talking the last minute or two of the game. Throughout the other 95 percent of the game, throughout the season, I think equal ice time is critically important.”
Appert wants to remind parents to let their young players enjoy the game.
“I think it’s important for parents to keep things in perspective and remember that it’s a sport for a reason,” Appert said. “You’re supposed to be playing for fun, you’re supposed to be getting better. The development should be driven by the athlete, not by the parents. If your son or daughter has enough talent, and they have a passion and love for the game, then they’re the person driving the development, not mom and dad driving the amount of hours at the rink or driving the wins and the losses.”