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8U: An off-ice program for the youngest players — and why it's important

04/19/2024, 4:45pm MDT
By Rich Hansen, USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager

Q: Is it that important to have an off-ice component for our 8U program? It’s hard to find the time and someone to run it.

A: Having an off-ice component to your 8U program is important and beneficial to the growth of your young athletes. The question is, what does that program look like? I think many people think it needs to be some kind of robust, complicated, massively equipped undertaking, but really, that’s not the case. Simple can be effective, and a simple off-ice component is definitely better than none at all.  

Similar to our American Development Model on-ice recommendations, the off-ice programming should be fun, age-appropriate and gradually more demanding as the athlete grows and matures. I recommend that the off-ice program consists of 20-30 minutes (not mandatory attendance) twice a week. This can be done before or after practice. Remember, you’re simply focusing on agility, balance and coordination; you don’t need fancy gym equipment. You can perform everything that needs to be done in a small area in the rink facility or outside.

I understand that, at the younger ages, hockey practice often starts early in the morning. It may be difficult to arrive at the rink early enough to set up practice, while also having to worry about running an off-ice training program. That’s why I strongly recommend empowering parents and involving them in the off-ice program as much as possible. It is not required at 8U to have a certified trainer running this type of off-ice programming. And to make it even easier, USA Hockey provides off-ice training cards that detail many great activities, games, exercises and drills, all of which are divided into appropriate age categories. These cards are designed for easy use by the coach/parent who may or may not have an extensive background in youth fitness training.

With a minimal amount of research and planning, anyone can run this type of off-ice programming, and it will boost your players’ development, both in the short term and in the long term. If you develop this type of off-ice training culture at the beginning of your season and hand it off to a group of parents to handle and schedule, it’ll pay dividends. And if it’s something you emphasize as being important for player development, I firmly believe you will have the volunteers to assist. They’ll want what’s best for their kids.

There are so many benefits to having an off-ice training component in your program. Your players will be more athletic, develop ancillary skills, decrease injury risk, and perform better on the ice.

As I mentioned earlier, the program will become more intense as the player ages, so it is important that they are introduced to some level of off-ice training at the younger ages, so it’ll be a natural progression for them at older ages.

The author, Rich Hansen, played four seasons of NCAA hockey at Mercyhurst College, amassing 127 points before embarking on a six-season playing career in the professional hockey ranks.

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