Q: Should they protect it, pass it or whack it away at 10U?
A: Players in the 10U age classification are in the midst of their prime skill-acquisition window of trainability, meaning they’re at an optimal stage for a skills emphasis. Cognitively and physically, they’ve entered a development phase in which they’re wired to assimilate mechanical athletic skill training more efficiently than at any other time in their lives. Put differently, players in this prime skill-acquisition window are like dry sponges, hyper-ready to soak up skill training. This special window closes in later teen years, not completely, but enough to make it imperative that we take full advantage of the wide-open opportunity for skill development at 10U. Consequently, the decisions that coaches make in practices and games can have a major effect on whether 10U players get the most from this prime opportunity to develop their skills.
Often we see 9- or 10-year-olds simply getting rid of the puck or whacking it away to avoid possibly losing it. Developmentally, this isn’t helping the child become a better hockey player. Panicked puck movement is never good and “off the glass and out” isn’t something we should cultivate at 10U.
Instead, coaches at 10U should encourage players to be comfortable protecting the puck and trying to pass to a teammate. We want to cultivate puck-protection and poised puck-movement skills.
To do this, coaches should teach the fundamental skills of puck protection and puck movement, then create many of these puck-pressure situations in practice and constantly encourage players to feel confident protecting the puck until they can find the proper pass or shot option. It’s very important that coaches teach and encourage the importance of positive puck protection rather than simply “whack it away.” This is a vital skill in today’s puck-possession atmosphere.
And when it translates to game action, coaches should continue encouraging poised puck possession and puck movement. It’s important to maintain a long-term development approach. Sure, “off the glass and out” might win a few games at 10U, but developing each player’s skill is far more beneficial to their long-term hockey prospects.
The author, Scott Paluch, was head coach of the gold medal-winning 2016 U.S. Youth Olympic Men’s Hockey Team. He was previously head coach at Bowling Green and an assistant at Boston College. As a player, Paluch was an All-America defenseman at BGSU.