As parents, coaches and even players emerge from 8U, they may be yearning for something dramatically different.
The grass may appear greener at 10U – with full-ice hockey.
The problem is that a complete 180 is seldom a good idea, and it certainly isn’t in this case. Bob Mancini, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some thoughts on why 10U hockey still requires a look at the big picture and a focus on skill development over results.
Not a finished product
The first reason coaches and parents should consider is that even though players might be making a jump in ability level, they’re still very early on in their hockey progression.
“It’s simple for me,” Mancini said. “A 10-year-old hockey player is far from complete. And he or she’s far from playing in truly competitive levels where only winning matters.”
The transition to those competitive levels will come gradually over time, but skipping steps along the way is not a good way to win the race.
“When you look at a developing player in those eyes, you realize as coaches we have a responsibility to continue their individual skill development, as well as teaching them the concepts and habits of the game.”
Winning still important
That said, Mancini bristles at the notion that USA Hockey downplays the importance of winning.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation when people say it’s not important to win at 10U. It is important,” Mancini said. “USA Hockey has never said it’s not important to win.”
Rather, the manner and context within which winning occurs is of vital importance.
“What we’ve said is you should win the right way,” Mancini said. “You shouldn’t win at the expense of what’s right for the kids. And you shouldn’t win at the expense of the development of the players. That’s really important, but people often get confused.”
One small step in long-term development
Sometimes the emphasis on skill development at 8U makes those involved with 10U want something different and perceived to be more exciting.
“I just think it’s the first year out of cross-ice and people have misperceived what the ADM is. They get out of that age group and now they think it’s full ice and everything changes,” Mancini said. “What happens is we’ve moved the needle so much at 8U to do what’s right that sometimes the pendulum swings all the way in the other direction at 10U.”
That does a disservice to players, he said, who are at a critical age of development.
A balanced look
So what should a good 10U practice look like?
“It should look something like the game, have constant decision making, with lots of touches on the puck,” Mancini added. “It should look like station-based practices and small-area games where the repetitions are high.”
If that sounds a lot like 8U, don’t worry: It is … and it isn’t. Either way, it’s done with the best interests of development in mind.
“It’s not going to look like it does at 8U,” Mancini says, “but it certainly should not look like 16U, junior or college, either.”