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10 things to learn at 10U

12/20/2016, 11:15am MST
By Evan Sporer - Special to

At 10 years old, it’s logical for hockey players and parents alike to start thinking about the game in more complex terms.

But at such a young age, not only are players still in the Golden Age of Skill Development, they’re also building habits and acquiring knowledge. It's still a time when players are very much learning the core tenets of hockey, and an informed, educated base is paramount to not only taking the next steps as a hockey player, but also keeping the game safe and fun.

With the help of USA Hockey American Development Model regional manager Bob Mancini, here are 10 critical focus areas for 10U players.

Rules, penalties and common infractions

It goes without saying that understanding and playing within the rules is important. From safety measures to streamlining the game, knowing the ins-and-outs and the dos-and-don'ts of hockey is paramount to building a strong foundation.

"Obviously you want the kids to learn the rules of the game, but you don't want to make that an emphasis that takes away practice time," Mancini said. "If you're talking about offsides, you want to play a small-area game that incorporates offsides into it, so the kids get a lot of repetitions, they have to make decisions, and there's an offside consequence to a small-area game.

"The last thing you want to do is treat the kids like they're college players, or junior players, and have them practice full-ice just to practice full-ice. Whether it's to practice a system of play, or to teach the rules of the game, we should never put them in a practice environment that isn't age-appropriate."


The metaphor goes that one has to crawl before he or she can walk. Likewise, the importance of understanding how to move on the ice can't be overstated.

"Skating is the most important of all the individual hockey skills," Mancini said. "Our coaches at 10U have to make sure that they're paying attention to skating skill and technical development. That starts with agility, balance, coordination, short burst, multi-directional speed that begins to get trained at 8U, but must continue through 10U hockey."

Puck control

Hockey is a team game, but many of those concepts become more incorporated at an older age. Younger players should take a more personal approach.

"Puck control and puck protection is very important, and it's another skill that, because of the practice and game environment at 8U, it begins long before kids get to 10U hockey," Mancini said. "The biggest mistake we can make is to take the players who have been in programs that do all the right things at 8U, and then transition them too quickly into practice plans that are based too heavily on team-only focused practice plans.

"Our 10-year-olds need a tremendous amount of continued skill and technical training in their puck skills."


There are many ways to incorporate shooting into a practice and one's repertoire. NHL-style drills and workouts incorporate more full-ice activities and lots of stoppages. But for 10U players, the more opportunities to shoot the puck, the better.

"You have to find creative ways to not just teach the technique of shooting, but to give kids the number of repetitions they need to develop the skill," Mancini said. "Shooting, like all the other individual hockey skills, is best taught in small groups during station-based practices where a player can get a large number of reps in a short period of time. Like all the other skills, shooting then needs to be combined with skating and puck handling."


It's very possible that a 10-year-old decides he or she wants to play goalie, but that doesn't necessarily mean he or she will practice only goaltending skills.

"The American Development Model recognizes the fact that at 10U, we're going to have kids that are committing themselves to being a goaltender," Mancini said. "This begins an important stage of development for goaltenders. With that said, we have to continue to train 10U goalies as athletes first. They have to get better at handling the puck; they have to get better at skating, as well as blocking shots."

Team play

As players get older and the game gets more advanced, different systems can be incorporated in all aspects of the game.

Team play, though, has very basic elements that are important to grasp before diving into deeper waters.

"The most important concept for players to learn starting at 9 years old is the four roles of hockey," Mancini said. "There are only four roles that a player can fill when they are on the ice: They can be on offense with the puck, on offense away from the puck, on defense defending the puck carrier, and on defense defending away from the puck carrier.

"Coaches should look very hard at delivering those concepts of play beginning at 9 years old. In essence, that is the structure of all team play. The real direction of learning offensive and defensive concepts is a progression that goes from 1-on-0, to 1-on-1, to 2-on-0, to 2-on-2, and then you add the elements of outnumbered play later on. You want to get those basic concepts of hockey down first before you even think about looking at team play, the way we might at the older ages."


This isn’t simply about bringing a water bottle to practice and staying hydrated, though it's always important to emphasize the importance of hydration.

"The beginnings of nutrition at 10U is about teaching kids they have good choices and bad choices with food, and that they should learn what good choices are," Mancini said. "They're young kids, but they can still begin learning the foundation of healthy dietary choices and decision-making."

Off-ice activities, injury prevention

Some of the most prominent and up-and-coming USA Hockey players spent considerable time playing other sports. From Jack Eichel to Kieffer Bellows, many top players have said how important it was in their development to be more than a hockey player.

"The biggest injury prevention tip is to be a multi-sport athlete," Mancini said. "Off-ice activities at that age group, the most important thing is, you need to play more than one sport. You need to do more than just be a hockey player. That's really what off-ice training is at that age. It's still about building the athlete, and not being hockey player-specific."

Sports psychology

A concept that's becoming more prominent throughout professional athletics, sports psychology can play a role for younger hockey players, but a very simple one.

"When I hear sports psychology at 10U, I think we should be focusing on kids having fun, kids being engaged, and kids being good teammates and good people on and off the ice," Mancini said. "If we begin by delivering those messages, and let kids play, and worry about the process of developing hockey players over the long-term instead of the short-term outcome of winning hockey games, in the long run, we're going to be better off. Our players will be way better off."

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