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8U Q-and-A: Managing a wide variety of skill levels

12/27/2017, 1:30pm MST
By Kenny Rausch

Q: I coach at the 8U level. We share our ice and have about 35 players at each practice. Within that 35, there is a wide variety of skill levels. If we divide the players into six groups of like ability, do I need six different practice plans to cover each group?

A: Before I answer your question, I would like to commend you for having that many young players on the ice for practice and for segmenting them into groups by similar ability skill-wise. It's always great to see coaches putting young athletes into great development environments!

Now, to answer your question. No, you do not need to have six different practice plans in these kinds of scenarios. What you do need is to use what we like to call “the art of coaching.” 

If you are running a practice plan that includes six stations and small-area games, here is what I would suggest: For each station, there should be a theme to the drill or game being played within that station. Let’s say Station 1 is a skating station. When we refer to the art of coaching, this is what I mean: For the lesser-skilled players, you have a base drill of skating, and for the more skilled players, you can “ramp up” what they are doing in this drill. This methodology should be utilized for all the stations and games that you play.

For an example of what I am referring to, see the practice plan below with six stations and three different progressions to each station. These progressions are how you "ramp up" to provide the right development environment for the more advanced players without having to create an entirely separate practice plan for them. 

Keep putting your players in these progressive environments and you will see all of them improve and enjoying our great game!

The author, Kenny Rausch, began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.

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