In a world where eight and ten-year-old players are labeled “all stars” and “top prospects”, it’s easy to lose sight of long-term athletic development and the need to give every player the opportunity to reach their potential. The “A” kids are easy to train and coach – they tend to listen a bit better as a group and can do a wider range of drills. Finding non-parent coaches at the “A” level isn’t too hard. The “C” level is near impossible. Yet, my experience in the past year with associations and their players at the 10U/Squirt and 12U/Peewee level has led me to think that we have lost opportunities to develop all players. We can do better by providing quality development to all players.
A far greater percentage of “C” players simply don’t have the proper fitting skates compared to the higher-level kids. I’ve skated with a good number of teams this winter and consistently have noticed that “A” teams have very few skate issues. The majority of the skaters have proper fitting skates. Contrast this with the “C” teams. Sometimes a majority of the skaters are swimming in their skates! No wonder they are having so much trouble skating. Put me in a boot a size too big and I wouldn’t be able to skate either. Associations need to educate coaches on how to spot improperly fitted skates and then make sure those that need new skates get them. It doesn’t matter if they are old or new, but they need to fit the player’s foot!
Some “C” players – at least at the 10U/Squirt level – started hockey “late” and just need a little more time to catch up. Maybe they only played one year of mites or their first year of organized hockey is their first year of squirts. What’s the point of comparing them to their peers? Obviously, they aren’t as good as those that have played for half a decade. How do we develop these players? We need to devote time, resources, and put an emphasis on skill development. Associations should see fluctuation in their levels. All the “C” players shouldn’t stay there; if they do, there probably is something wrong.
Ultimately, we also need to remember that player development is not our only goal as youth hockey associations, coaches, and development directors. We want “C” level retention. These players shouldn’t quit because they don’t have fun playing or feel neglected. More kids playing sport is a good thing. It helps kids stay fit and healthy, gives them the opportunity to learn life lessons, and helps teach social-emotional skills. And more kids playing hockey today, enjoying the game and learning to love it, only serves to set up future generations. A mom and dad that loved the game as children are far more likely to pass on its joys to their children.