By the time we reach adulthood, many of us likely take for granted the basics of agility, balance and coordination. Today, they’re second nature. We forget that, when we were youngsters, those elements had to be learned over time.
Bob Mancini, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has witnessed that progression in young hockey players and he has a message about the importance of training agility, balance and coordination in 10U hockey players.
“It’s the foundation of being a successful athlete in the long term,” he said. “Sometimes what we don’t realize is that these are things are substantially shaped at a young age. What we do with our hockey players at 10U is going to make a big difference in terms of what they’re going to be able to accomplish in their careers.”
Can’t stop, won’t stop
In traveling to visit with various associations, Mancini has noticed a trend when it comes to the development of coordination and related skills.
“Too often, we’re seeing that 10U coaches and parents want to rush the development process,” he said. “I’m seeing all over the United States where associations are doing a lot of good things at 8U and they’re following the ADM to give kids lots of repetitions and a real focus on the training or developing of agility and balance.”
But by the time the players get to 10U, Mancini says, those things tend to get ignored.
“It’s a feeling like, ‘We’ve done that. We’re good. Let’s get to the higher-level concepts of hockey,’” Mancini said. “While it’s important we recognize training of 10U players is different than 8U players, we have to also recognize that we still have to do the things that we focused on in 8U. We need to make them more agile, more balanced and give them more coordination.”
That can be accomplished in a number of ways. Mancini says station-based practices still have value at the 10U level. Again, it’s about building on the lessons from 8U without thinking there’s no new ground to cover.
“I’m not talking about doing all the same exercises. You want to increase the difficulty, add new exercises,” Mancini said. “But it’s important that, when we go to 10U, we don’t leave behind the teaching and direction that we utilized at 8U.”
Here are some age-appropriate dryland drills and exercises your child can do at home to improve their ABCs.
More than just hockey players
One critical way to increase the agility, balance and coordination of hockey players is to let them play other sports.
“The most important thing we have to understand is that, before we build the hockey player, we have to build the athlete,” Mancini said. “The research is clear that what we’re trying to do is wire the brain so physically we can accomplish a lot of different tasks at a lot of different levels of movement.”
Having players involved in multiple sports helps accomplish that task while also helping to prevent burnout and repetitive stress injuries.
The hard part, Mancini says, is that sometimes the benefits of developing those skills in multiple sports don’t become apparent until later on in an athlete’s life.
“I just finished coaching 14-year-olds and it was clear that my players who played multiple sports and weren’t solely focused on being hockey players had an advantage,” Mancini said. “Their ability to continue to improve was way greater than the players who only focused on hockey.”
Parents play a key role
So what can parents do to ensure their 10U players are getting the proper development in agility, balance and coordination?
The primary thing, Mancini says, is for parents to make sure they choose a hockey association that values things that lead to ABCs development.
“Do they embrace the fact that kids are multi-sport athletes? If they embrace it and believe in it, they are going to allow flexibility for players to do it,” Mancini said. “If they don’t, they’re going to make things difficult on those players.”
That might mean shopping around a little, Mancini says, instead of settling for convenience. But the right decisions at a young age can make all the difference.
“Parents interview three to five people when they remodel a kitchen but then just plop their kids into any association,” Mancini said. “We need to be involved in those decisions for our kids. Parents as customers have the right to ask questions and to steer players to programs and associations who are committed to doing the right things for their kids.”