Cashing In On The Golden Age

Science Shows That Early Skill Development Is The Key For Future Success

From 9 to 12 years of age might be the most important period in a young athlete’s development. Dubbed “The Golden Age of Skill Acquisition,” a child’s body is far enough along in its growth, but brain development is still happening at a rapid pace. 

Based on years of physical studies and research, at no other point are children better suited to acquire early core hockey skills that will prepare them for what lies ahead. 

What this means is that physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally, athletes at this age are most receptive to building the base of skills that will set the stage for long-term success in hockey.

Unfortunately, for too many 10 & Under players, the instructional focus shifts from individual skill development and training to team play  and competition. This type of misguided focus limits a young player’s ultimate athletic potential.

Seeing Is Believing

If time is money then ice time is worth its weight in gold. And coaches can’t afford to waste a minute when it comes to player development.

The number of repetitions that a player receives during a practice is directly tied to how much he or she will improve over the course of a season. And as studies have proven, the number of puck touches that occur during a practice far outweigh those in a game. 

In addition, station-based practices and small-area games create far more activity and developmental opportunities for players of all ages and skill levels compared to full-ice games and practices. 

But don’t take our word for it. USA Hockey has created an activity tracker to help parents evaluate the developmental opportunities that occur during a practice and game for their sons and daughters.

“It’s not an opinion on what you or I may think,” says Scott Paluch, American Development Model regional manager for the Mid-America and Southeastern Districts. “The Golden Age of Skill Acquisition is built
on sports science and the principles of long-term athlete

Paluch adds that the 3:1 practice-to-game ratio, which is strongly encouraged as part of the ADM, is important for players to get comfortable working with the puck for longer stretches of time. 

Additionally, it's important to educate parents on the rationale behind high practice volume.

“Parents have seen a culture of, ‘Let’s just play as many games as we can,’” Paluch says. “It’s up to us to explain and educate them on why practices are key.”

Dan Jablonski, the hockey director for the Kettler (Va.) Capitals, agrees. His program has accepted the challenge of following the USA Hockey top-to-bottom blueprint as one of 11 model associations around the country.

“The American Development Model sets the right culture where, ‘Hey, this is what’s expected for you,’” Jablonski says. “It’s not just practice; it’s active participation in the practice where you’re building those foundation skills.”

Jablonski echoes Paluch’s remarks, saying that laying out a roadmap for players and parents about why there’s a concerted focus on the 9 to 12 age range will negate any ambiguity.

“Parents want what’s best for their kids,” Jablonski says. “But they need to understand that this isn’t just one person’s philosophy. There’s a lot of thought behind this. This isn’t something that was conceived over night.”

The multiple repetitions that come with station-based practices are geared toward individual skill development while minimizing the standing around time will keep players engaged throughout the sessions. During this ‘learn to train’ stage, consistently working with the puck is also strongly emphasized. 

“The proof is going to be in the pudding when you see skill levels increase,” Paluch says. 

“The window of trainability is something we focus strongly on with the American Development Model. …We want to make sure that we’re providing programming from a hockey standpoint that fits right in with what athletes should be focusing on at this point in their life.”



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