Q: Our child has been assigned to a house 10U team. He’s been playing for three years now and has never made the top teams. At this point, we’ve basically accepted that he won’t excel in hockey, even though he loves to skate and has a huge passion for the game. Can you offer us any advice?
A: Advice? First I’d offer you hearty congratulations. Your child has discovered a passion for the game? Loves to skate? Playing house hockey? That’s awesome! It sounds like he’s active, healthy, having fun, making friends and traveling down the normal development path that 99 percent of kids travel, including a good number of future NHL players and Olympians.
As for advice, I’d say embrace the long-term process, enjoy these moments and let your player develop at a normal pace, which is a non-accelerated pace. Stop worrying. Stop comparing. The entire idea of early selection – the notion that people can predict which hockey athletes will be long-term elite prior to age 13 – has been debunked by every bit of research and study conducted on the topic. So don’t assume that your 10U child won’t become an excellent hockey player, and don’t get caught up in the idea that the youth hockey experience was a failure if he doesn’t eclipse all of his peers. This advice obviously goes against a label-hungry culture and the school of false expectations for youth in America today, but you don’t need to fall into those traps.
It's important to realize where a 10U player actually fits into the development path. These prepubescent children are truly just starting to enter their first phase of technical skill development. Their biggest gains are still to come, and frankly, probably not for another two years or more. And then, for most kids, puberty will scramble it all anyway. Only after that will they even begin to resemble what they might become.
I know that many associations across the country now have 10U teams selected for the upcoming season. With that being the case, it’s an excellent time to come up with a list of realistic short-term expectations with your child. These shouldn’t be keeping-up-with-the-Joneses expectations. Instead, please just take a moment to appreciate that your child has the ability to participate in youth sports and that he has a passion for being physically active. Understand that there is a progression to all learning, and stay focused on what's truly important at this juncture, namely that your child is skating, learning and having fun.
Take the time to educate yourself on long-term athlete development models from around the world. Remember that development isn’t a linear process. It’s possible this may relieve you of some undue fear, anxiety and stress that comes with a perception of being left behind.
The author, Guy "Goose" Gosselin, made his NHL debut with Winnipeg in 1988. He is a two-time United States Olympian and was inducted into the University of Minnesota Duluth Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.
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