Small-area games are the golden goose of development at 8U.
Ken Martel, the technical director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, was recently asked for his favorite 8U “games” to use as teaching tools.
“There are a lot, but it depends on what specifically you’re trying to work on,” Martel said. “It could be something for skating, puck-handling or shooting.”
He broke it down into three categories.
The best games are simple, but the concepts they teach are complex.
“Obviously you can work on skating straight ahead, but it’s a lot better to get kids repetitions at turning and using their edges by putting them into a game like border tag,” Martel said. “You put a padded divider and one player on each side. Tag, you’re it. I have to chase you.”
But not only do you add an element of competition to the activity, you also work on countless technical abilities.
“It’s stop-start, change direction, there’s a little deception involved, and it keeps kids active,” Martel said. “It’s one of those things where they’ll keep going for quite a while, and the amount of repetitions they get with those key skills is a lot.”
For puck-handling, Martel also likes a drill with an element of keep-away or tag. Have one or two players try to steal pucks from a group of players who all have pucks, but restrict them to a certain area.
“Now you can go anywhere you want in an area while avoiding the other people, but you have to read who is coming to steal the puck,” Martel said. “There is pressure, real situations. Everyone has a puck, and those are terrific games for working on puck control.”
Better yet, a game like that really makes young players focus on the fundamental skill of skating and controlling the puck with their heads up.
“It puts the puck on your stick and in an environment that’s incentivizing you to get your head up,” Martel said. “If all you do is skate around cones, you’re looking down at the cones.”
Martel calls the game “knockout,” and he stresses another key to any drill.
“I like the games that allow kids who are tagged out to be immediately put back in. We want to keep players involved,” he said. “We’re not too concerned about pace and tempo at those ages. They’ll go hard when they can.”
Passing and shooting
This drill sounds so fun that I want to get on the ice right now and try it.
“Put a group in whatever size zone you want to use, and place half the players on one side and half on the other,” Martel said. “You have to stay to your end – cross-ice or sixth of the ice. And then you put a ball or ring or some other object in the middle. And you say ‘go.’ You have to try to hit the object and move it to the opposite side of the ice.”
Instead of just two players passing the puck back and forth, it creates a competition. It creates urgency to reach for more pucks and shoot them at the target – which is moving, adding another element of challenge to it.
“There’s aiming” Martel said. “There’s competition. You’re grabbing pucks and you get tons and tons of reps. It’s basically target practice – which is what passing and shooting are.”