The 10U age level is a crucial period for hockey players to develop physical skills while also improving mental aspects of the game, such as spatial awareness, comfort level with body contact, and how to approach a defender when they have the puck.
Matt Cunningham, manager of the USA Hockey Coaching Education Program, offers seven on- and off-ice drills that help players work on both the physical and mental sides of the game.
“Obviously at 10U, general skill development is paramount,” Cunningham said. “But some of the small games at 10U will have a little bit more of a decision-making element than you will see at 8U. We introduce a lot of those kinds of games, plus the on- and off-ice activities that nurture development of general athleticism – agility, balance, coordination – those core athletic fundamentals, in addition to the core hockey skills that we really want our kids to develop at those young ages.
“The small games are great for developing spatial awareness and getting kids comfortable with bumping into each other a little bit, developing contact confidence, which really serves as the foundation of body-contact skills moving forward.”
It’s essential to build a fun, engaging environment for players during each practice. Coaches should feel free to run practices on repeat, so that time is invested in training, not on demonstrating drills.
“With pretty much everything at those young ages, as coaches we draw things up and we have a vision of how things are going to play out or how we want them to look, however, it’s very rarely the case that everything goes exactly according to that vision,” Cunningham said. “So I think, as coaches, it forces us to develop a comfort level with chaos, a comfort level with patience for really working on those fundamental skills and not expecting everything to look exactly like we hope it will right away.”
Here are some on-ice drills you might see during practices, and how it benefits the player:
One player stands still while moving their stick back and forth, while another player practices stickhandling around and through the moving stick from the stationery defender. This helps a player understand visual cues from a defender and works on his spatial awareness.
USA Hockey Mobile Coach: “Place a net in each corner. A player from each team is placed on the faceoff dots. The player on the dot cannot move but can pass to a teammate or shoot. Each team has two other players in the game to create a 3-on-2. Progress to a continuous 4-on-3 by adding another player to each team.”
USA Hockey Mobile Coach: “Using one-third of the ice, the coach places two nets near the boards as shown. The players can play 3-on-3, 4-on-4 or even 5-on-5. The coach calls out the signals and the rules of the game as they change. For example: the coach will declare that only backhand passes and backhand shots are allowed. After a while, the coach can declare only flip passes and wrist shots. The next time he might declare only backward skating. Be creative and challenge your players.”
USA Hockey Mobile Coach: “Designate one player to be the quarterback for the entire game. The quarterback plays for whichever team has the puck. To score a goal after a turnover, the team must first pass to the quarterback, who returns the pass, signifying the change of offense to defense and vice versa. The quarterback can also shoot and score.”
If your child wants to work on their skills at home, Cunningham says it’s important for parents to encourage hard work, not focus on results. Be supportive and make sure they’re having fun.
“I think as parents, our game, especially at those younger ages, is so different than any other, because there are a lot of technical skills to it,” Cunningham said. “Then you factor in the ability to skate as the wildcard underneath everything. I think parents can play in a big role on the repetition side of things, and helping kids to develop that patience and develop an appreciation for the process, and the process of developing mastery of the skills as one of the overriding goals.”
Cunningham also recommends staying positive and praising their work ethic.
“I think that’s where our parents can also reward the effort,” he said. “A kid might shoot 100 pucks, and they might miss the net 50 times. Instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on the effort the kid made and really give them an appreciation for that dedicated skill development in both the structured environment and on their own, and use it as a means to develop a love for the game.”
Some off-ice drills to work on at home:
Focus on a loose bottom hand, your hand sliding on your stick and your expansion of reach as you stickhandle a ball out in front of your body from cone to cone. Proceed from short, quick dribbling in front of your body to extending the ball the maximum distance you can on the forehand side of your body. Return for more quick dribbling in front of you, and then extend the ball to the maximum distance on your backhand side of the body. Repeat this process to both sides 10 times for completion of the drill.
As you jump through the floor ladder, complete 180-degree turns during each leap. The jump-and-turn motion will improve your athleticism as you work on your agility and balance while jumping through the ladder.
Set up four cones three feet apart, and then one more cone six feet away from the others. Stickhandle through the first set of cones before rounding the final cone and firing on goal. Make sure you look over your shoulder to find the net and opening before rounding that final cone. Remember to focus on body positioning throughout the entire drill, especially with the shot – your power on a wrist shot comes from your lower-body strength more than your arm strength. Good weight transfer is crucial for shot power.