Navigating the 10U hockey landscape as a parent can be daunting. It’s such a critical age in so many ways, with the lessons learned on and off the ice laying the groundwork for the player your child will eventually become.
Joe Bonnett, regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, doesn’t have every answer about how to meet those challenges, but he does have a lot of tips and best practices – a series of do’s and don’ts to get you through.
Do: Encourage skill development.
Don’t: Develop a win-at-all-costs mentality.
An important thing to remember is that 10U hockey is primarily about skill development. While it might be tempting to want coaches to take shortcuts that lead to more victories in the short-term, embracing a longer view of success is critical.
That’s not to say it’s easy, though – especially when other teams might embrace a different approach.
“The very first thing that is extremely difficult for some adults is that they have to look through a lens of development,” said Bonnett, who has 18 years of NCAA Division I coaching experience. “If you want to go to a tournament and judge your whole season on a weekend, parents who are looking at a wins-and-losses approach might be very disappointed. At 10U, there are a lot of variables. You might be playing teams a year older or you might play a program that doesn’t believe in skill development, which might, in a short-term period, help them accumulate short-term gains, like wins at 10U.”
But rest assured, the programs that focus on developing skills over wins and losses at such a young age will catch up and surpass their peers as time goes on. Part of that skill development, too, involves off-ice training.
“Parents need to understand and expect an off-ice program with your club. It could be twice a week for 20 minutes after a session, working on balance, agility, coordination and other fun-type activities,” Bonnett said. “Having a bonus 20-30 minutes twice a week helps a child become more athletic and is a great team-building activity. It’s a simple value-add for a club because it’s free.”
Do: Offer positive reinforcement.
Don’t: Focus on mistakes during the car ride home.
Here’s a simple test for parents: “Is the car ride home happy?” Bonnett asked.
It should be. Particularly at the 10U level, the car ride home after a game can be an important time for positive bonding. It can also spiral into something entirely different if the focus is in the wrong place.
“The only thing a parent should say to a 10U player is, ‘I love watching you play,’” Bonnett said. “The car ride home can be hard for kids because they can hear a lot of different messages. At 10U, that piece has to be positive.”
Do: Cheer for your kids and their team from the stands.
Don’t: Yell at kids or berate officials.
Watching a 10U hockey game from the stands doesn’t require any sort of bland stoicism. But it does require some common sense and decency.
“At the 10U level, and really all levels, you should be specifically cheering for the whole team and being positive,” Bonnett said. “I have a parent meeting with our 10U team and we say we’re going to be the classiest parents in the rink the whole season. Stay positive, and if something really bothers you, walk out of the rink and we’ll deal with it at a different time.”
On the flip side, few things irk him more than disrespecting referees.
“My opinion on referees is they’re just as important as the puck, the coach or the net,” Bonnett said. “Without them, is there really a game? They have a job to do.”
Do: Give kids ownership of the game.
Don’t: Over-explain things.
Anyone with kids knows it’s hard to watch them fail. But we learn through trial and error and it’s good for our kids to learn through trial and error. That sentiment applies to 10U hockey and the idea of giving ownership of the game to the players. What does that mean as parents?
“Some people tell players where to stand, all the answers all the time. You should be here. Work hard. Skate fast. Stop. Go,” Bonnett said. “Instead, we should be trying to communicate in a way that encourages them figure it out and probe. Next time what would you have done? If this happens, what should you do? What did you see on that play? What is your coach asking you and what does that look like? Having those conversations, where kids have to think and visualize success and situations that are positive, will put more ownership in the game, and ultimately, it’ll help them become more effective thinkers and more creative players.”
Do: Support your kids’ love of hockey while also encouraging them to play other sports.
Don’t: Allow them to specialize in hockey at a young age.
Even if your child loves hockey, don’t let them play year-round. Playing multiple sports at this age and acquiring other skills is crucial to long-term athlete development. It also gives kids a mental break from the game and prevents overuse injuries.
“10U is the age when their bodies and minds are open to growth and acquiring skill. The more they do, the more well-rounded athlete they’re going to be. Specializing is frowned upon, and playing multiple sports is encouraged,” Bonnett said. “We want the kids to become athletes first, hockey players second. Doing gymnastics, soccer, lacrosse, any type of ball-striking sports, those are all skill packages that will transfer over to hockey.”