The best hockey players start as the best athletes, first and foremost, and there’s no better time to foster athleticism than during the early years, specifically the Golden Age of Skill Development.
For players at the 10U level, time spent off-ice honing the ABCs (agility, balance and coordination) will lead to big gains on the ice.
“As hockey organizations, we think it’s always on the ice, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” said Scott Paluch, USA Hockey ADM regional manager. “We can accomplish so much from an off-ice activity standpoint – getting kids to move with agility, balance and coordination really should be a part of every young child’s daily routine.”
Unfortunately, many children are lacking the routine physical education in schools that youngsters of yesteryear received. Paluch said hockey and every other sport organization needs to think on a larger scale in terms of overall athletic development.
“Long-term athlete development will tell you this is the time of highest skill acquisition,” Paluch said. “Athleticism is a fantastic way to put things in perspective. All sports, when you think of the core of what makes anybody a good specific sport player, a lot of times it’s athleticism. “
Making time for off-ice activity at 10U
Everyone is busy.
From parents running multiple children to different rinks to coaches rushing late from work to run a practice, time is at a premium. However, making a minor change to the way we approach a day of hockey and adding a short window of off-ice athletic development can make a big difference.
“This is probably the one area our country can improve the most: in our commitment to really changing the culture of what a hockey practice really is,” Paluch said. “We’ve been ingrained so much, as a time constraint that we have a lot of demands on time these days. Reality is, if we have an hour hockey training session on ice, culturally, we should turn that into a two-hour slot and use 35 minutes for the necessary off-ice [training] to make the biggest improvements.”
Adding 30-40 minutes of off-ice activity won’t make up for the loss of daily gym class, but at this age, any additional movement will benefit the long-term development of young athletes. USA Hockey has a range of off-ice activities that will keep players moving all season long.
“Chase and reaction games are really a good way to improve the athleticism and ultimately become a much more athletic hockey player,” Paluch said.
Fundamental sports help hockey
The 10U level is too young to get into weight or plyometric training, but teaching and using fundamental sport movements like throwing, kicking and swinging will help strengthen muscles that aren’t being used on the rink.
“We really have an opportunity to engage in as much movement and as much physical literacy as we can,” Paluch said.
Even during hockey season, participation in non-hockey movements and skills will benefit players as they hit the ice.
“It’s so important kids learn and develop coordination,” Paluch said. “Quickness, fundamental agility [will help] players get into position to surround pucks and catch up to pucks.”
If you come across a high-level hockey player, there’s a good chance he or she didn’t specialize in the game at an early age. It’s highly likely they developed into a better athlete by playing multiple sports.
“The majority of our athletes that reach the highest levels really were multisport athletes, even in the higher ages, 16, 17 years old,” Paluch said. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence. Athleticism is key.”
Getting the right mix
At the 10U level, players should be getting a 3-to-1 ratio of practice to games. Think of the added benefits of two of those practices starting out with an off-ice endeavor and then each game starting with a dynamic warmup of athletic movements.
“That’s one of the key reasons we’re trying to emphasize that this is the Golden Age of Skill Development,” Paluch said. “This is the time, not just for hockey, but for all sport training. Long-term athlete development principles will tell you that this is the time of highest skill acquisition. There’s a commitment to that; you cannot get the necessary puck touches or the amount of time with the amount of decisions necessary – you’re not going to get those in a game.”
At this age, both on and off the ice, overall emphasis needs to be on individual skill training – including the ABCs of athleticism.
“With our athletes at those younger ages, if we can just get the simple athletic movements and more overall physical literacy commitment to our sport, I think that would really pay extreme dividends in the end,” Paluch said.