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10U Q-and-A: Development isn't linear

01/31/2017, 9:45am MST
By Ken Martel, ADM Technical Director

Q: We’re five months into the season and my children aren’t playing any better than they did in October. What’s wrong?

A: As adults, we become conditioned to expect dramatic performance gains quickly and steadily in our everyday lives. But remember, children’s development isn’t linear. They don’t have adult maturity, physically or mentally, and they don’t have the broad foundation of experiences adults have to help them adjust quickly to a wide variety of challenges. So, before jumping to any conclusions about 10U children on the ice, keep in mind that their minds and bodies are in a constant state of change, and that it’s normal for their performance to plateau or even regress for periods of time. If they are still having fun, still engaged and still giving a great effort, they’re still improving, even if it doesn’t always look like it at 10U.

With that said, there should be some improvement evident after five months. The key might be to look deeper into their performance. The goals, points or big saves aren’t necessarily the only (or even the best) measures of development at 10U.

Is your child skating more confidently? Is your child showing more poise with the puck, looking to make a play rather than just whacking it toward the net? Attempting to pass the puck occasionally? More often able to receive body contact without falling? In goal, staying square to the shooter and moving a little more fluidly across the crease?

These are all significant signs of improvement, even if they don’t always register on the scoreboard.

Remember, at 10U, children are just barely beginning to accelerate their development. It’s still very early in the process; a stage when their brains and bodies become ready for a little bit more in terms of passing scenario complexity, shooting on the fly (after stationary shooting has been taught) and more challenging edge work. And while coaches add those elements, it’s also critical to continue training the ABCs (agility, balance and coordination) during this phase in a child’s development (both on and off the ice), along with introducing more advanced small-area games. These small-area games are important because they develop and expand 10U players’ hockey sense, while also teaching the concepts and successful habits that will be paramount at more advanced levels.

These essential skill development experiences are difficult to accomplish without committing to a 3-to-1 practice-to-game ratio, because there is so much to develop in 10U players who are now physically and mentally more ready to soak it all in with a high number of reps and puck touches.

Studies have shown that one proper station-based practice provides the equivalent of 11 games’ worth of skill development. With that in mind, if you’re eager to see improvement, ensure that your 10U children are in a program that prioritizes proper practice structure and a 3-to-1 practice-to-game ratio.

The author, Ken Martel, coached collegiately at Air Force and Michigan Tech while also helping guide numerous U.S. National Teams. As a player, he skated four seasons at Lake Superior State, winning an NCAA championship in 1988.

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