Q: I coach an 8U team. What’s the best way to develop my players’ speed heading into 10U full-ice hockey?
A: This is a fantastic question. I also have an 8U player and coach an 8U team, so I’ve studied this topic extensively.
As the 8U season progresses, some parents get anxious as their child nears graduation to full-ice games. They loved their child’s 6U, 7U and 8U experience, but wonder if their child will be ready to play 10U. To be more specific, parents wonder if their player will be able to skate up and down the ice with speed. I hear many parents say that their 8-year-old needs to “air it out” or lengthen their stride.
Here’s what I’ve learned about developing speed in an 8U player: It involves two very important components, and both can be developed very easily if the coach has a basic understanding of two simple concepts.
First, your hockey club and coach should provide an off-ice training component for 8U players. But don’t be intimidated. I am not talking about a gym full of weights and players performing Olympic lifts on a platform. I am not talking about big, hairy athletes grunting and shrugging. What I am talking about is creating a fun, athletic environment where players show up at the rink 40 minutes before their ice time to perform an 18-22 minute off-ice program. I’m talking about fun.
During an 8U off-ice workout, coaches need to create a pleasant and happy atmosphere; an environment where young players look forward to the upcoming practice and the next workout. Coaches should lead agility-, balance- and coordination-type exercises in these off-ice workouts. These types of movements and stimulations will build a foundation for speed development.
When developing speed, coordination is the most important movement ability for the 8U player. Because these players are nearing the Golden Age of Motor Learning, they’re not afraid to do movements in space. To build coordination in off-ice drills, coaches should implement:
Coaches should also understand that 8U players are not fully developed adults. Therefore, during exercise, it’s important to:
Once a coach or parent understands these basics, it’s time to help shift the players into high gear and develop speed. Here are some simple off-ice drills that will promote speed development in your 8U player:
Different runs with coordination elements:
- Start from different positions/stances and after different moves
- Small speedy games (e.g., tag)
- Obstacle courses
- Drills that combine speed and coordination elements
- Agility tracks
- Ladder drills
Once the coach or parent implements this 8U off-ice program, the players will love coming to the rink even more. It will become normal to the player and their athletic ability will increase significantly over the course of the season.
The second component your coach needs to understand is the on-ice speed component. Some coaches and parents believe that skating the full length of ice or skating laps around the ice will improve an 8U player’s speed. That belief has been proven false by sport science and anecdotal experience. In fact, skating the full length of the ice or laps around the ice may actually hinder an 8U player’s speed development.
Remember, the 8U player is not a fully developed adult. There are two components when developing speed: prepubescent and post-pubescent.
In prepubescent players, for optimal long-term development, coaches must stimulate the brain. This stimulation will provide a foundation of quick brain activity, which will prove useful when that same athlete is post-pubescent with fully developed muscles. Asking 8U players to skate full lengths of ice or laps doesn’t provide the quick brain activity stimulation these kids need. Furthermore, it’s unwise because 8U players don’t have the muscular development to properly skate long distances with good technique, thus these long skates merely cause technique breakdowns and creating and reinforce poor skating habits.
Put differently, 10-second bursts of mentally engaged strides, with proper technique, do an 8U player far more good than full-length skating or laps.
So, to build speed in an 8-year-old player, coaches should create an environment where there is plenty of brain stimulation, change of direction or reading and reacting and then a full speed component up to 10 seconds. Here’s an example of a great skating drill for 8-year-olds that will increase their speed and help prepare them for the next stage in their hockey development.
If your club builds this two-component foundation properly, your 8U player will graduate to 10U and beyond with the right tools to take advantage of their newly acquired muscle in their post-pubescent years.
The author, Joe Bonnett, has more than 20 years of hockey coaching experience, including 18 seasons at the NCAA Division I level. Before entering the college ranks, he was a peewee and midget hockey coach in Michigan.