Q: What’s the best gift for 12U players?
A: ‘Tis the season when peewee players are thinking about sticks, pucks and presents. We don’t recommend that coaches trade their helmets for Santa Claus hats, but it’s important to remember that, in this season of giving, coaches (and parents) can indeed give a great gift to their players: skill development.
Often, coaches will have a greater impact on their young players than schoolteachers. With this opportunity comes a tremendous responsibility. It’s a platform to teach life lessons about teamwork, accountability, overcoming adversity and working hard to achieve goals. Rewarding effort and praising the necessary so-called failures will reinforce creativity and love for the game. It also helps instill the kind of character in children that will help them succeed in pursuits beyond the game.
Bringing it back to hockey and giving, coaches have the opportunity to provide a team and its players with the gift of skill development during every practice. Truly, a season filled with practice plans emphasizing individual skill development is the greatest gift.
Players who receive this gift – through practices focused on high activity and quality repetitions – discover that it’s the gift that keeps giving, year after year, helping them climb closer to their dreams.
As coaches, it’s important to avoid running practices that focus on short-term success at the expense of long-term development. This is especially vital at 12U, when children are in their Golden Age of Skill Development.
Laps, lines and lectures are lumps of coal for 12U players. So too is a practice that leaves 10 players standing on the sidelines while five players are rehearsing a breakout, a left-wing lock or a faceoff play.
For parents, their role in giving the skill-development gift is just as important. Remember to be patient with 12U players. Don’t rush their development. Encourage them to take a long-term, process-based view rather than fixating on singular outcomes at 12 years of age. And above all, be an advocate of skill development within your association. Remember, college and professional coaches aren’t looking for players who know where to stand in a 2-1-1 forecheck. They’re looking for skilled players who make plays. The best incubator for those players is an association that prioritizes individual skill development over short-term outcomes.
The author, Ty Hennes, began coaching youth hockey while in medical school. He did his undergraduate work at Boston College, helping lead the Eagles to an NCAA championship as an alternate captain in 2001.