Q: How are we keeping our kids safe with skill development at the youngest levels?
A: USA Hockey’s checking progression structure gradually introduces players to the skills necessary for body contact and body-checking. At the 8U and 10U levels, players are building their foundation of skating skills, positioning/angling techniques and stick-checking skills. This phase in the progression allows players to learn body control and on-ice awareness, which are key elements when increased body contact and body-checking are introduced at older age levels.
Hockey is not a sport in which players should just be thrown into a game. They need to learn how to stand on skates, how to skate on skates, and how to stickhandle. It’s a gradual progression. That comes back to coaching. It’s vitally important for players to learn body control and on-ice awareness. If we teach that, it makes our sport safer.
The most important part in this progression, and a part that is often forgotten, is the base of the pyramid focusing on attitude, ethics and respect. Making the environment fun for kids to learn these skills and not over-emphasizing game outcomes will allow them to develop these skills in an age-appropriate way where winning isn’t the only priority. Everybody wins when skills are developed and the kids enjoy what they are doing at this age.
Key aspects of player safety also include sportsmanship and mutual respect, which starts at home. We want to shape our athletes into responsible citizens who have a sense of sportsmanship while having a respect for the game, their coaches, teammates and opponents.
Everyone involved in hockey has a role. If parents and coaches stay educated and vigilant about age-appropriate progressions and the players are given proper instruction, the sport will remain not only fun and competitive, but also safe.
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