This is a repeat of a guest blog post I wrote for LeagueAthletics.com, LLC.
As youth hockey season begins again, parents and young players tend to feel both anxious and excited. They’re excited by the hockey games to come and often anxious about tryouts and how they’re going to be evaluated, and developed, by the coaching staff.
Whether your child is in a learn to play hockey program, on an in-house team or playing competitive travel hockey there’s a few guidelines that both parents and coaches can follow to make the season an enjoyable and productive one.
Most hockey coaches should be familiar with the American Development Model (ADM) which provides age-appropriate guidelines and practice plans to hockey associations across America. The goal of the ADM model is to help more kids play, love and excel at hockey.
Based on ADM guidelines from USA Hockey practices should emphasize skills development more so than game tactics, especially at the younger ages. Coaches should be emphasizing and reinforcing the principles of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD).
There are 8 stages to the LTAD process, each offering age-appropriate focus for young hockey players:
- Active Start (6 and under)
- FUNdamentals (Mites: 8 and under / 6 and under)
- Learning to Train (Peewees: 12 and under, Squirts: 10 and under)
- Training to Train (Midgets: 15-16 and under, Bantams: 13-14 and under)
- Learning to Compete (Midgets: 18 and under)
- Training to Complete (Junior and NCAA)
- Training to Win (Junior 19+, NCAA, NHL)
- Hockey for Life
USA Hockey has created a printable guide explaining these stages. Overall the emphasis should not be on games played or wins & losses. Rather the focus should be on creating fun and challenging practices that teach young players the fundamental skills needed to compete at the next level.
Here’s a video put together by USA Hockey that shows how ADM practices should be run:
When following the ADM model youth hockey practice plans will focus on 5 strategies to maximize player activity level and engagement:
- Run cross-ice practices (and games) for Mites 8 and under
- Create stations on the ice that emphasize specific skills to be developed. E.g. skating, puck control, passing, shooting, body contact, position play, etc.)
- Place players into small groups at each station. Run each drill quickly and ensure that players are continuously working hard for a minute or so, then resting a minute, then active again. This mimics game shifts and helps develop player stamina while teaching skills
- Allow for small area games and scrimmage time. Small area games are important to teaching young players how to make quick, and good, decisions while working as a team.
- Freeze plays during scrimmages. Blowing the whistle to stop action creates opportunities to reinforce key teaching points. It’s surprising how easily young players will forget the very skills they spent all of practice working on when you drop a puck and let them play. Young players need help transferring skill development to game play situations.
As parents of young hockey players we have an important role to play too. That’s why I’ve created a list of the 5 Lessons Every Hockey Parent Should Follow for a Great Season:
- Hockey is a team game. Teach your kids the importance of working together.
- Let the Coach – Coach. Don’t yell from the stands. Don’t coach in the car ride home. Know what your coach is trying to teach and reinforce it in as positive a way as you can.
- Be on time. Set a good example for teamwork by making sure your child is on time and both you and him or her view practices as more important than games.
- Kill the negativity. Try to provide constructive and helpful input. Don’t be a complainer.
- Create a success journal. Write down your child’s goals for the season, your goals for him or her and the coach’s goals for your child too. Keep track of how your son or daughter is progressing over the course of the season, including both the good areas and those for improvement.
As coaches and parents of youth hockey players it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids have fun, learn to love the game and take-away a few life lessons – such as the value of hard work, teamwork and personal development – along the way.
I hope these guidelines and tips help make this a great hockey season for you and your family.