Q: Is it appropriate to skate kids for not listening?
A: Coaches need to have age-appropriate expectations for the kids with which they work. Understanding a little bit about child development, and that young kids have a child-centered approach, is critical to the success of a coach. “Success” at this age shouldn’t be defined by wins or losses. Kids participate in practice and games to play hockey and hang out with their friends. Their youth sport experience belongs to them, not the adults running the practices or managing the bench. A coach’s role is to lead, teach, motivate and encourage these young and vulnerable players.
Players younger than 12 years old are often not cognitively and psychologically ready to practice and compete in an adult-based environment. What kids want out of sport is often very different than what adults think they want. Kids favor fun and inclusion over winning and competition. A 2014 study by researchers at George Washington University reported 9 of 10 kids said “fun” is the main reason they participate. When asked to define “fun,” they offered up 81 reasons- and ranked “winning” at number 48:
Coaches shouldn’t use punishment as a motivator or as a method to keep young players’ attention. Making kids do sprints, push-ups or embarrassing them by singling out in front of their friends is counter-productive. If kids are goofing off or not understanding the method of coaching delivery or motivation, the coach might instead examine their coaching style and philosophy. Here are some simple suggestions that will help youth hockey coaches have a successful and fun season:
- Create practice plans that work on fundamental skills but that are also game-based. Races, obstacles courses, relay races, battle drills, etc. Give kid-friendly names to the drills and games, like Darth Vader or Dinotrucks. This approach will help keep players’ attention.
- Keep instruction minimal (aim for 30 seconds, maximum) and concise to avoid having to explain the drill twice.
- You retain 90 percent of what you do, 20 percent of what you see and only 10 percent of what you hear. Coaches can demonstrate a drill to give the players a visual, but they should also allow them opportunities to walk through drills as well as demonstrate drills.
- Kids need repetition. Allow for errors. They must fail to succeed. It may take players a whole season to learn how to execute the fundamentals of the sport.
- Encourage risk-taking; measure effort, not results (losing is allowed)
- Give precise, constructive and direct feedback to players.
- Emphasize the fun of playing
Sport has the opportunity to teach young kids competitive skills, goal-setting skills and sportsmanship while providing a healthy and positive social atmosphere. Please maintain realistic expectations for young athletes by encouraging an age-appropriate developmental coaching philosophy versus a competition- and adult-centered philosophy. A successful coach is one who provides age-appropriate programming while motivating, inspiring and teaching these young athletes the sport of hockey.