8U Player Development
A key component of athleticism is balance. At the 8U age classification, developing the ABCs — agility, balance and coordination (along with speed) — is essential to building a foundation for future athletic success. So how do you develop balance? Put 8U players in off-balance positions and have them try to regain equilibrium.
At 8U there is also an emphasis on cross-ice play. This is a more efficient use of ice time and space, allowing more kids to be on the ice at the same time, which keeps costs down and aids in skill development. Grouping kids according to age, size and ability also increases participation and skill development through more puck handling, more shots, more saves, more goals and more fun.
While every child is different, they all progress though the same stages of physical development – they just do it at different times and different rates. As a parent of a young player, it’s important to understand that sports development is not a linear process. Some kids will grow early and others late. Based on physical and mental growth, some kids will move more rapidly through certain stages. The important thing to recognize is that everything tends to even out after all the kids go through puberty.
Who doesn’t love to score goals? In sports like hockey, the object of the game is to score more goals than the opponent. With cross-ice play at the 8U age level, players are in closer proximity to the nets at all times. This provides players with more opportunities to shoot and potentially score goals. Early positive experiences in sports have proven to be a key in children's continuing engagement, and there is nothing like the feeling of scoring a goal.
Little kids are doers. They don’t want to stand around listening to an adult speak; they want to move and be active, which is exactly how they learn. A quality practice at the 8U age group focuses on a high amount of activity for kids. Using station-based practices helps segment kids into smaller groups and increases the involvement of each kid at each station.
When kids are moving and engaged, they are learning the motor skills that will help them succeed at the more advanced levels of our sport. The goal for coaches is to create stations that keep the kids active in a 1-to-1, or even 1-to-0, work-to-rest ratio at 8U. No lines, no laps and no lectures is a good way to think about how we want to go about delivering a quality practice for young players.
Children between the ages of 7 and 9 reside in the first of two optimal windows for development of athletic speed. This first window (known as the Speed 1 Window) is primarily one in which young athletes can develop quickness. Quickness is exemplified by short-burst, multi-directional speed. This is one reason why the cross-ice playing environment is so vitally important for development in the 8U age category. In the cross-ice game, players stop, start and change direction far more often than they do in the full-ice game. At this stage, children benefit exponentially from using key skating skills that promote quickness. So the more of these stops, starts and quick changes of direction we give our kids in this stage, the better it is for their long-term development.
Taking advantage of the Speed 1 Window helps our players develop this core athletic component. Hockey is a sport that places a high value on quickness, especially with our older players. Between the ages of 7 and 9 is the time to take advantage of each child’s natural growth pattern to help them improve their quickness for the long run.
So, keep the game fun for kids, keep them involved and, as a parent, enjoy each stage of your child’s athletic development.
Content adapted from www.ADMkids.com