A: First of all, as a coach, you need to ask yourself what kind of environment you create for your players.
It may sound funny to ask such a serious question when it comes to coaching 10U players, but it’s important. Do you use a positive, constructive, upbeat tone when talking with your players? Is it obvious that you put your players first? Are you fully prepared for on-ice sessions and do you go into practice with a theme? Are you fully engaged and prepared to teach? Do you fully understand that your practices aren’t always going to be perfect? Do you accept that hockey is a game of mistakes, especially at 10U, and do you allow you players the freedom to make mistakes without fear of punishment? The answers to these questions should make fairly clear what kind of environment you’re creating as a coach, and whether that environment is a motivator for 10U players.
Beyond the aforementioned environmental factors, there are many creative ways to motivate young players. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box. One idea is to start a mentor program with older kids within your club, or contact the local high school.
When an older kid would come out on the ice or even just spend time with my teams, it was a huge motivator. I can remember being 9 years old and watching the 12U team play. I was blown away by how fast they were. It was inspiring. Later, when I was a 12U player, I’d watch the high school team and hope that someday I could play at that level. I can still remember what skates they wore, their jersey numbers and how they taped their sticks. It made a big impression on me and it also gave me an idea of what to expect.
As a sophomore in high school, I was able to witness an IIHF World Junior Championship game in my hometown. It was amazing to see the skill level and how dynamic they were. That’s another way to motivate 10U players; go see a high-level game with them and discuss what you saw.
Building on the idea of watching high-level hockey, have your 10U players imitate their favorite players during practice for a few minutes.
Play music during practice.
Name drills after certain players on your team. They always like to be recognized and it’s all built around having fun. Recognition and fun are powerful motivators.
Here’s another one I’ve seen first-hand: The hockey association in Bottineau, North Dakota, has a breakfast club where high school players and youth players skate together once a week before school. They practice skills together. After practice, all the players have breakfast together. It’s a great idea and it motivates players at all levels, along with creating a following for the local high school team, which makes it a win-win.
Another idea is to schedule a team function away from the rink, maybe at a gymnasium, and try some other sports.
On the ice, think about scheduling a day when players can compete in simple yet fun contests. Introduce team-building games as a motivator (click here for many examples). Play other sports on the ice, as this will enhance skill sets and help keep kids interested. It’s a great way to keep things fresh and engage your players during the hockey season.
Above all, always have fun. It’s the best motivator of all.