Q: How can I maximize 10U practice planning?
A: By now, most people involved with youth hockey are aware that the 10U and 12U age classifications fall within the Learn-to-Train stage of long-term athlete development. It’s also commonly known as the Golden Age of Skill Development, a time during which accelerated learning of coordination and fine motor control occurs.
I frequently hear coaches ask what skills should be the primary training focus at this age group. To help answer this question, I often ask these coaches to envision and articulate some descriptive traits of their favorite current hockey teams, generally those competing in the NHL or NCAA. Very often, the responses are quite similar. Their favorite teams to watch are teams that play fast, exhibit good puck skills (stickhandling and passing/receiving), have great puck-compete skills (puck possession/protection) and are full of smart hockey players. It’s a very enjoyable discussion that ultimately provides the answer to their question of what skills should be the primary focus during their 10U practices.
If you want to be a fast team, you must make skating quickness and agility a priority. If you’re looking for players to handle pucks well and show strong passing and receiving skills, it needs to be emphasized and practiced consistently. The same premise applies for players learning to win loose pucks, protect and possess the puck, and ultimately, make a positive play with it. As for hockey sense, that’s developed when we put players in situations where they need to make a decision on how best to achieve positive puck advancement. In training hockey sense, the danger is in giving young players all of the answers. Often the game itself is the best teacher; Letting kids discover their own solutions is a valuable training technique. Coaches must be sure to design practices that are station-based, requiring good hockey decisions, and then consistently add the elements that make up the skills of the teams they love to watch.
The author, Scott Paluch, was head coach of the gold medal-winning 2016 U.S. Youth Olympic Men’s Hockey Team. He was previously head coach at Bowling Green and an assistant at Boston College. As a player, Paluch was an All-America defenseman at BGSU.
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