Hockey fanatics, as well as the most casual of fans, recently witnessed the game’s best players competing for their countries at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where the beauty of our great game was on display for all the world to see.
If you dig deeper, what you really saw was the tremendous amount of time each of those players has invested into maintaining and improving their individual skills throughout their career.
Watching those great players should serve as motivation for all of us involved with youth hockey to do what’s in the best interest of all our players and to enhance their individual skills.
Sadly, there is a huge difference between proper development and what is being used as training methods for the majority of our youth players in the United States.
While there is still a large disconnect between what we are doing and what we should be doing at both the 10 & Under and 12 & Under age levels, the difference is far more hazardous at the 6 & Under and 8 & Under levels.
As youth hockey coaches, we not only have a tremendous responsibility to each one of our players but also to the game. We should all be aware that we are not only in charge of preparing the proper foundation for further skill development, we also play a major role in a child’s decision to continue playing this great game. It is important that we direct all of our energies and abilities to encourage athleticism, help develop a strong foundation of skills and foster a love for the game within each child.
Our Under-17 and Under-18 Teams competing under the banner of the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., routinely spend large blocks of practice time working on skill development. And these are some of the most talented young players this country has to offer.
The best college coaches devote a minimum of 25 percent of their practice time every week to further the individual skill level of their players.
And NHL teams employ development coaches and directors of player development to help improve the skill level of their players and teams, while professional players spend an inordinate amount of time both before and after practice working on improving their individual skills.
Yet, throughout the nation, our youth teams spend more time practicing systems and devising ways to beat an opponent than developing basic skills.
There is something wrong within our development system when we can point to the fact that there is more time spent trying to increase the skills of our best and oldest players than we spend in the development of our players at the youngest ages.
To reverse this trend, we must become more in tune with the ADM concepts of long-term athletic development and age appropriate training. Simply put, at the 8 & Under level we must focus our energy on three very important avenues of player development:
• Athleticism (Developing agility, balance and coordination)
• Skill development (Fundamental movement skills)
Ice times should include the greatest number of players possible. Practices should be filled with constant movement and activity. Coaches should say less and players should do more. Each practice should be so much fun that every player is left with a desire to come back for more.
Lastly, we must realize that the game at the highest levels is not decided on a 200-by-85 foot sheet of ice, but rather in small areas where players out-maneuver, out-skill and out-compete each other to give their team an advantage.
With this in mind, we must make a strong and unwavering commitment to playing cross-ice hockey games throughout all of our 8 & Under programs in USA Hockey. It makes no sense for us to be pushing our youngest players to play full-ice hockey, when our best coaches are trying to find ways to get their players to learn how to play in small areas.
We have an opportunity with cross-ice hockey to give our youngest players the skills they need to be successful as they develop through the system and we must allow common sense to dictate our actions in this critical area of development.
No one knows where the next Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel or Zach Parise will come from. Isn’t it about time that we, as youth hockey coaches, put aside the egos that are wrapped up in the winning games and put that same amount of effort into ensuring the foundation of athleticism, skill development and fun that will give all of our players the chance to reach their full potential?
For more information on the American Development Model, including Long Term Athletic Development, Age Appropriate Training Principles, contact information for your ADM Regional Manager and much more, please visit ADMKids.com.