By Keith Andresen, VP, Dallas Stars
Every season there are folks who think that full ice hockey for the 8U age group is good for their development. What the real experts are saying from the NHL, USA Hockey and the IIHF is that these full ice hockey proponents are wrong.
I prefer to call ½-ice hockey “right sized” hockey. If you think about it, what sport puts 8U players on a professional size fields. I don’t see 8 year olds on 90 foot base paths or hitting home runs over a fence 400’ away. I don’t see 8 year olds kicking a soccer ball or running with a football on 100 yard fields. I don’t see 8 year olds shoot a ball at a basket 10 feet in the air. Why on earth would anyone think that teaching an 8 year old to play hockey on 200 foot hockey rink is the right way to teach. None of these sports call their 8U version of the game ½-field or ½-court, they just play on a right-sized field. With the purchase of proper boards and right sized nets, 8U kids can flourish on a rink that fits them just like a right sized field for soccer and baseball.
I’ve watched hundreds of Mite games over the years, both full ice and right-sized. There have been a number of full ice games where I have seen kids never touch the puck. Those games are typically dominated by the most skilled players and while they may touch the puck, they have plenty of room to skate away from any pressure. If you put those same kids on a right-sized surface then the skilled players will have less time and space and will have to react much quicker to pressure. The rest of the players will receive more touches and more repetitions.
The key to making a “right-sized” program successful is buy-in from parents. The kids whose parents support the program have a great experience when the program is well organized. Professional coaching and organized planning ensure the kids have fun. When parents don’t buy-in it quickly rubs off on the child and that is a really tough mindset to change.
Below is an article from a recent USA Hockey Newsletter. It discusses some of the myths that the full ice proponents use when arguing against right-sized hockey. Fortunately, the number of right-sized ice supporters across the country far outweigh the dissenters.
Sorting ADM Truths From Myths
Myth 1: ADM fails in youth goalie development. Kids need to be identified as goaltenders and taught goaltending-specific skills at young ages.
Truth: Almost none of the NHL’s top goaltenders began playing between the pipes until they were at least 9 years old. Finland, which is viewed as a model for producing great goaltenders, doesn’t let kids play full-time in goal until age 10. Goaltending experts worldwide state that, at 8U, it’s far more important to develop overall athleticism and skating ability than goaltending technique. And, as Kevin Woodley recently wrote in InGoal Magazine, “most NHL goaltending coaches will tell you they’d rather add some structure to a skilled athletic goalie than try to add athleticism to a technician.” Thus, the ADM’s emphasis on development of athleticism at young ages is ideal for skaters ss the country uture goalies alike.
Myth 2: To develop understanding of positional play and offsides, 8-year-olds should play full-ice hockey.
Truth: Not only can positional play and offsides be taught with cross-ice hockey, it can be taught more efficiently than in a full-ice environment.
When the puck is dropped, positional play becomes a player’s relationship to the puck, the opponent and the net. All of these elements are key components of the small-area games used in USA Hockey’s American Development Model. By teaching these concepts in the context of small-area games (spacing, gap control, angles, support, body positioning), players not only learn the concepts, but also learn them more efficiently thanks to increased repetitions.
Regarding offsides, it can be easily taught by using a marker and drawing a line across the middle of a cross-ice environment. This line represents the offensive blue line. And, much like positional play, it can be taught more efficiently through cross-ice play, since the number of zone entries (and especially non-breakaway zone entries) is dramatically increased in a cross-ice scenario.
Myth 3: ADM practices don’t provide enough skating, especially long skates.
Truth: Forty to 50 percent of every USA Hockey ADM practice plan is skating-focused. Additionally, the cross-ice environment requires children to take an equivalent number of strides to what an adult takes when covering a full ice sheet. It’s simply scaled for a child’s leg length. Lastly, skating form deteriorates over long distances. Age-appropriate skill development emphasizes development of proper skating form and an increase in quality strides.
But most importantly, what separates players at advancing levels of hockey is their ability to turn, stop, start and change direction. These are the skating skills that are vital to becoming a successful hockey player – and these are the skating skills emphasized by the ADM with small-area games and cross-ice hockey.
Myth 4: The ADM removes competition from 6U and 8U programs.
Truth: Competition is at the heart of the ADM, but it emphasizes age- and developmentally appropriate forms of competition, e.g., two players competing for a loose puck, rather than an overemphasis on the final score of a 6U or 8U hockey game.