Q: I understand the importance of skill development, but when will my child learn how to play the game?
A: The 14U and 16U age categories are highlighted in what is known as the Train-to-Train stage as it relates to long-term athlete development for hockey players. This is the time when coaches and players should focus on the enhancement of both sports-specific skills as well as speed, strength and stamina. It is also a very important stage for competition, and coaches should do everything possible to schedule meaningful games with evenly matched teams. While your child should be learning some elements of the game in an age-appropriate manner throughout their youth hockey experience, it is at this Train-to-Train stage of their maturation when they will truly begin to specialize in becoming a hockey player (and learning “how to play the game”).
The 14U/16U age levels are when players should begin focusing on the habits and concepts of both individual positional skills and team skills. Playing with the puck, and the concept of offensive support, as well as playing without the puck, and the concept of defensive support, are key elements to the education and growth of 14U/16U players. A player must be able to transition quickly from a defensive role (when their team is without the puck) to an offensive role (when their team has the puck) and this ability will be a major building block for future success. It’s when these concepts are learned that coaches may choose to start emphasizing a team style of play. It’s a stepping-stone process and these critical elements of play should be emphasized throughout the 14U/16U age classifications.
Lastly, players, parents and coaches should remember that this is the age when good training habits are developed. Good on-ice practice habits are important not only for team success, but also for each individual player. The importance of creating and maintaining good habits will help each player continue their journey to be becoming the best player they can be.
The author, Bob Mancini, is a longtime hockey coach and player-development expert. His experience includes two seasons in the NHL as an Edmonton Oilers development coach and more than a decade as a head coach in the NCAA Division I and OHL ranks.
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