Some of the biggest myths in hockey involve our youngest players, those at the 8U level and the use of cross-ice hockey. Guy Gosselin grew up in the old-school mentality, but is an early adopter of the American Development Model and a believer in cross-ice hockey. Gosselin played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the 1980s before moving onto the professional ranks.
Gosselin helps debunk some of the biggest myths surrounding cross-ice games and its impact on the 8U level.
“We see bad habits forming in a full-ice situation,” said Gosselin, now an ADM regional manager at USA Hockey. “The tendency is to watch the puck and not necessarily working on their skating. These kids (8U) are going through their first speed window, (playing cross-ice) works on acceleration. They are also working on their edges by navigating through that smaller area.”
At this age, full-ice games are more linear; up and down the ice. While playing cross-ice, kids are naturally learning to change direction, use quick start and stops or sharp turns to stay involved in the play.
“Hockey is a progression of skills. It’s about keeping them involved and excited to play. If they’re playing and they’re getting a lot of touches, we’re going to retain those kids.”
This is a simple misnomer. Kids have to learn with age-appropriate equipment and playing surfaces before advancing onto the next level. Plus, the idea that kids aren’t able to transfer their skills from cross-ice to full-ice is ill-founded. The reality is science has proven that games utilizing smaller areas actually improve skill development and retention.
“We’re late adapters compared to the other sports. Little kids aren’t capable of playing on that full sheet. Kids develop their motor skills, their mechanical skills and, again, it’s a progression. We don’t want kids playing on a full sheet because, at that age, they’ll pick up bad habits.”
Whether it’s the playing surface or the equipment, you name the sport, baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, and pretty much universally they adjust to the size and age of the child. Hockey is catching on.
“If you go to any rink across the country and watch how the kids are competing and watching how challenging it is – whether it’s a higher-skilled player or lesser-skilled player – they are in those small areas and learning how to compete. Full-ice hockey, we’re watching one team’s skilled player go all the way down the rink and score, while the others stand around and watch. That is not player development.”
Which brings us to the next myth…
“If the better players are going against lesser-skilled players, they’re not challenged enough in a full-ice game. If you get them into a smaller-area game, they have to work. It pushes our better players to become even better. It’s OK to score five or six goals, because that’s how you learn to become a goal scorer.”
By forcing the top players to learn how to play in traffic, cross-ice hockey helps them just as much, or maybe even more, than lesser-skilled players.
“If you practice playing on a full-size sheet and there’s no sense of urgency, you have a tendency of being lazy and not to get involved. Today’s game is all about puck possession and puck protection. If you look at an NHL game, in the D-zone, there are 10 players in one-third of the ice.”
To an 8-year-old, the full length of the ice is daunting. Here’s what it looks like when you put adults on a sheet made to the same ratio as a youth player on an NHL sheet.
“I would agree with that statement, but only because kids will develop at a quicker rate playing cross-ice hockey.”
With the ADM model and cross-ice games, children are developing their motor skills, making quicker decisions and are more involved in the play and develop at a higher rate. These are the core principals of childhood athletic development.
“From what we’ve seen it’s much more fun. The activity time, the touches, the reps, all involves the kids because they stay focused and having a lot more fun. Kids don’t want that slow boring, movement; they want to be in on the action and involved in the play. Cross-ice hockey is an excellent environment for kids to learn. They’re going to excel when they develop a passion and a love for the game.”
Have you ever heard an adult that’s been playing hockey their whole life say, “Man, this rink is just too small. It’s boring. If we don’t get a bigger ice sheet soon, I’m going to hang them up.”
Yeah, we haven’t either.
If a kid says they’re bored of cross-ice hockey, it likely comes from one of three things:
These myths are simply misperceptions that get stuck in people’s heads. When it comes to doing the best things for kids, it’s important to check the facts as well. And the science is clear that a smaller playing surface is the right thing to do.