Skating is critical at every level, from 8U all the way to the NHL. But how do we separate the merely adequate from the excellent? And how do we put skaters as young as 10U on a path for excellence?
Dan Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, shares his insights.
Drills and skills
If 8U is about fundamentals, 10U “is more of an introduction to the technical side of skating,” said Jablonic. This is an age to refine motor skills and really harness body awareness to make the most of agility, balance and coordination.
“You shouldn’t get caught up in full-ice power skating because, at this age, kids are distracted. Boredom sets in if you get too technical,” Jablonic said. “We love stations. You can build in fun obstacle courses, building in jumping over pads, setting up a border patrol with nets – work some puck control, ways to get creative and those things with the kids. By being creative and keeping fun in mind, you can really build technical skills and do it with the proper repetition.”
Within that framework, coaches can identify strengths and weaknesses of particular skaters and work on them.
“Is a player struggling with edges? You can design a station for that,” he said. “It’s all about determining the objectives and what you are trying to achieve. And the more you can explain to kids why you’re doing things, the better.”
Stability and agility
The difference between 8U and 10U is that, by 10U, they are starting to gain more stability on their skates.
“At ages 9-12, you’re seeing a more technical side. You’ll notice that more coming out of 10U and also how they’re anticipating the play a little more,” Jablonic said. “They’re more stable on their skates. They have more control of the edges at 10U and 12U, depending on where kids are at with growth.”
Stability is a key factor in confidence and improved performance, Jablonic says, and repetitions both on and off the ice are critical.
“Leading up to 12U, you want to start to get these kids to be better athletes – and off-ice training is only going to help,” he said. “So are multiple sports. Lacrosse, soccer, basketball, that’s going to translate onto the ice. Their gross motor skills get refined.”
Click here for a 10U guide to weekly off-ice training plans for kids to maximize motor skill development.
Faster, faster, faster
Improved technique and better teaching have enhanced skating ability across all levels.
“Any time you apply better coaching and knowledge, it’s going to increase things. I think we see it across the game. At every level across the board, you’re seeing more good skaters,” Jablonic said. “It used to be that maybe one or two kids maybe were fast back in the day. Now a whole team is fast and building into the team speed concept.”
Keeping up is important, but it’s not just about raw speed. There’s also deception through misdirection, throttling speeds, head/stickhandling fakes and other tactics to create time, space and scoring opportunities.
“Skating is such a huge component of becoming a good hockey player, but then there’s problem solving,” Jablonic said. “Our game is so fast now, it’s amazing. But with everything we do, we want it to be something that can help kids succeed in a game-like environment. You can be slower, but if your reaction time is good in specific areas, you can make up for it.”
Never stop working
The proof is in the work, and skating is one of those skills that is never completely solved.
“You don’t ever stop getting faster or more efficient or more fluid until you quit the game,” Jablonic said. “Auston Matthews, we weren’t saying he’s a pretty skater at 13. He’s worked at it and he obviously has other great assets, but he’s worked at it and become a proficient skater.
“You watch any NHL team and the best guys are always working on their skating. The game is evolving and everyone is trying to keep up and trying to be faster and more efficient.”