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8U Q&A: The on-ramp to the NHL?

08/28/2019, 8:00am MDT
By Joe Bonnett, ADM Regional Manager

Q: We are starting our first season of 8U hockey this fall with our son. My husband and I are so excited to watch our son play and start his journey toward the NHL. What advice can you give me to make sure he is on the right path?

A: Ice hockey is the greatest team sport on our planet and we’re excited that you and your family are participating in this great game. I admire your passion for hockey and encourage you to explore youth hockey with your child in a fun, sporty, positive manner. 

My first piece of advice is to be sure to pick a program that will nurture your son’s passion for the game. 8U hockey should promote fun in an athletic environment that leaves your child craving more hockey. Hopefully the club you choose has adults in charge that understand childhood development and challenge your son in an age-appropriate manner. Hopefully your son’s practices look different than practices of the 1980s. For optimal fun and skill development, your child should be in small groups of players receiving lots of repetitions and touches, high brain activity, minimal down time and plenty of encouraging feedback from coaches. At the end of practice, if your child is sweaty and smiling, you are well on your way to building the love of the game which will propel your child as he grows into an adult.

Another piece of advice is to find a club that promotes sporty lifestyles. 8U is a time when off-ice activity should be emphasized once or twice a week. Simple balance, agility and coordination games or drills should be played in a safe atmosphere near or at the rink for 20-30 minutes. Acquiring strong skills in all-around athleticism at the 8U stage will help your son acquire difficult hockey skills as they progress in the coming years.

Finally, I would recommend slowing down the journey-to-the-NHL mindset. It’s a long road to the Stanley Cup and 8U isn’t meant to be viewed as the on-ramp. Slow down, enjoy the process and recognize that there’s no need to rush. Ice hockey is a late-development sport.

Recently, Sportsnet Canada picked its top 100 NHL players. Among that group, the average age was 27.35. Of those top 100 players, 79 percent were age 25 or older. Five of those top 100 players were selected in the seventh round or later of the NHL Draft. Four weren’t even drafted at all.

In short, NHL careers are not determined at 14U and below. But in these formative years, you can significantly improve your child’s physical literacy and passion for the game. That leads to a lifetime passion for hockey and healthier, physically active lifestyles. Conversely, if you rush the process and push too hard, you can burn out your child’s candle before puberty hits. I’ve seen many families push hard during 8U, 10U and 12U hockey, only to fizzle out at 14U. That’s not the outcome you want. By maintaining a patient, long-term athlete development approach, you will enjoy the journey with your son significantly more.

The author, Joe Bonnett, has more than 20 years of hockey coaching experience, including 18 seasons at the NCAA Division I level. Before entering the college ranks, he was a 12U and 16U coach in Michigan.

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