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The battle worth fighting at 10U

10/27/2017, 10:15am MDT
By Michael Rand

Congratulations, hockey parent. You’ve made it through the beginner years of 8U hockey and watched your child get better thanks to a lot of skill development drills and cross-ice games.

Now it’s time for 10U hockey, which means … a lot more of the same?

You might be thinking: Wait. Wasn’t all that just for the little kids? Aren’t we done with that?

Not really.

Sure, the games will be played on the full sheet of ice now, but a lot of the same drills and principles from 8U are just as important at 10U – and beyond.

Emily West, an American Development Model manager for USA Hockey who played college hockey for the University of Minnesota, helps explain why.

No need to hurry

West references “windows of trainability,” those sensitive times in a young hockey player’s life when he or she is making huge physical leaps and learning movements that will be vital for the course of an athletic career.

Those windows are a big deal at 8U, and they remain critical at 10U and 12U. Skill development at those ages is most efficiently attained through practice – much of it in small spaces, at fast paces. West cites a statistic that shows one well-run practice provides a young player with the equivalent amount of skill development as he or she would get playing 11 games. Shortcuts aren’t the answer.

“Some people don’t realize that we’re looking at the long term. If we skip a step, sometimes we can’t go back,” West said. “We can’t go back and reopen those windows. Some people get in such a hurry for all the wrong reasons.”

After all, West says, the average age of a player on the U.S. Women’s National Team is 24. The average NHL rookie is nearly 23. It’s a long road from 8U or 10U to that elite level.

“There is so much development that can occur in those early years,” West said. “I don’t know what the necessity of rushing is. It doesn’t make sense. It’s ultimately why we are seeing the burnout factor. There’s so much pressure to specialize or, in general, to perform.”

Small ice is real ice

If you thought small-space drills would end at 8U, try this on: They very well might not end even if your child makes it all the way to the highest levels of hockey.

“I don’t think enough people really understand the effectiveness of small-area work,” West said. “It’s not just an 8U or 10U thing. NHL teams do it. College teams do it. Being an NCAA Division I athlete, we did it all the time. You’re taking away time and space, allowing for enhanced skill development. From an outside point of view, maybe it seems juvenile. I think, for whatever reason, some people have that misconception.”

But elite teams work on it because small spaces are realistic. Goals on free-flowing line rushes are nice, but most pucks find the net after quick reactions in small spaces.

“If you break hockey down, what is it? Rarely you’re on a full sheet,” West said. “It’s in close, it’s small-area and it’s basically essential that we train kids to be comfortable in that. If you have a player used to having tons of time and space, and you suddenly take it away, it’s very challenging and frustrating. If they’re comfortable with having less time and space, when there is time and space they’re like ‘wow, this is awesome.’ It’s much easier to train that way than the opposite way.”

The progression

That said, there are obviously some differences once a young player reaches the 10U level. West says that while 8U focuses on skill development about 85 percent of the time and cross-ice games for the rest, at 10U there is still a lot of skill development but players are also starting to work on creativity and some basics of system hockey.

But the goal remains constant: Training young hockey players to grow into high-level athletes.

“We love competing and encouraging winning. We all love competition. But we don’t want to sacrifice development of these kids just for a 10U or 12U championship,” West said. “What’s the benchmark of true success in young kids’ hockey? Is it winning a championship or is it sending them on to the next stage ready to develop more, with a higher ceiling of potential, and not having coaches needing to take two steps back in their teaching to compensate for missed skill development?”

That can be a hard sell sometimes, but it’s a battle worth fighting.

“One of the biggest problems is that we live in a society where people want instant results right away,” West said. “True skill development runs contrary to that instant-results mentality. Development is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re not going to have a 10U player as an NHL rookie no matter how good they are.”

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