As hockey players enter the 10U age group, they begin learning more advanced skills. But that doesn’t mean they will master techniques quickly, which is all the more reason to start them at that age.
Among the skill introductions at 10U: the art of deception, which includes deking and advanced stickhandling. Joe Bonnett, a USA Hockey American Development Model regional manager, helps explain not only why teaching those techniques is important but also how to go about it.
What to teach
Bonnett emphasized three things that sound fairly simple but add up to some complex skill-building when it comes to stickhandling.
“For the 10U level, what we’re seeing and trying to promote is practice with the puck on your stick,” Bonnett said. “That sounds extremely simple, but we want 10U players during practice to really have coaches increase their puck time on their stick during the course of practice.”
Bonnett says 30 minutes of practice time per session with pucks on sticks is ideal. And at the 10U level, players have the stamina to work on those lessons for long periods of time.
“No. 2 would be get the puck on their stick in areas where they have to have their head up,” he said. “In cone drills, there’s no creativity. You’re just going around a cone. Instead of cone drills, we want the players in an environment that is constantly changing and requiring them to keep their heads up and maybe have other kids around them. That builds awareness – how to play with the puck on their stick and head up.”
Once those things have been introduced, a third component can be added: resistance.
“Put them in a situation where maybe there’s keep-away or they have to make moves around players,” Bonnett said. “Have them do a hard figure-8, a toe-drag, some sort of fake.”
The good news is that many of the concepts fit nicely into the ADM philosophy of station-based practices.
“Then you just need some patience,” Bonnett said. “It’s about philosophy and concept. Keep it moving and keep working on it.”
The skills are introduced at 8U and 10U, refined at 12U, and then hopefully by 14U, they can be incorporated into a faster-moving style of play. The idea is that the puck-handling skill becomes increasingly automated, so as the player advances to higher levels, more of their brain capacity and vision can be dedicated to analyzing the rink and processing, tactically, how to play the game.
“10U and 12U is the golden age of still development, so the lessons probably don’t change much there,” Bonnett said. “But as players enter puberty and their bodies change and brains develop, as a 14U player, the kids can start playing more explosively and they’ve become more comfortable with the puck when power and speed become a bigger factor.”
Explore the creativity
Early on, though, there will be a lot of missteps.
“It takes patience on behalf of the coaches,” Bonnett said. “Maybe you start slowly, with just one or two stations in a practice. It happens over time.”
For players, he advises plenty of off-ice work to get even more comfortable with stick tricks.
“To be a good stickhandler and have good moves, you have to do work in the garage,” Bonnett added. “Get the tennis ball, get the golf ball. If kids aren’t stickhandling off the ice, they won’t improve as much.”
For coaches, the advice is simple: let kids be kids, and let them fail in order to be successful.
“As coaches, allow the kids to be creative. At 10U hockey, if a kid tries a toe drag and is unsuccessful, don’t yell at that kid. He’s learning. Should a coach yell ‘dump it’ or let him make a creative move? Our philosophy is let him make the move,” Bonnett said. “This is the level where mistakes should be acceptable. Let the kids be creative and don’t stifle that. It’ll pay dividends in the long run.”