Q: My son is in his fourth year of 8U hockey. I’m afraid that playing cross-ice is holding him back and that he will get bored with four years of this structure. What should I do?
A: Playing cross-ice hockey will not restrict a young child, because it’s an age-appropriate playing surface size designed to maximize long-term development. Conversely, playing on an ice surface (or field) that isn’t age appropriate is more likely to inhibit development. One way we can prove this is through a formula called Game Intensity Index (GII).
I recently read an article by a lacrosse coach that discussed Game Intensity Index. “Intensity” was defined as the likelihood of a player to have an opportunity for direct participation in play. The lower the GII, the more intense (engaging) the game becomes.
To determine GII, take the square footage of the playing area and divide it by the number of players. If you examine full-ice 8U 5v5 hockey, the GII is 1,700. Compare that to a cross-ice 8U game played 4v4, which produces a 637.50 GII. That means the cross-ice game is producing more than double the engagement and intensity level.
Reducing time and space and creating more decision-making opportunities at 8U never hurts development.
As for getting bored, for two reasons, I chuckle when I hear this.
First, when I play cross-ice hockey, I’m never bored. In fact, I’m more engaged because I know that I’m going to get the puck more. Getting the puck more means I have a chance to make more plays and score more goals. Since I didn’t get to score enough in my college career (do we ever get to score enough goals?), I still like scoring today.
When I coach older players and we play small-area games, I have yet to meet a player who was bored. In fact, they’re usually disappointed when it’s time to end the game. Secondly, if a player is bored after playing four years of cross-ice, what happens after they play the ensuing four or more years of full-ice hockey? Will they be bored and need to play on a Lake Superior-sized rink? Doubtful.
When you think about it, after a child’s 8U seasons, they have a lifetime of full-ice hockey ahead of them. And seeing how many adult hockey players are still lacing ‘em up – evidently not bored after countless years of skating on the same sheet of ice – I don’t see the 8U boredom argument as being valid. Besides, left to his or her own thoughts, the concept of being bored with cross-ice hockey isn’t something most 8-year-olds would conceive. Those kinds of ideas come from another source, e.g., the mind of an adult.
As parents and coaches, it’s important that we support our children, allow them to be young kids, and fuel their developing minds with positive, productive thoughts.
The author, Kenny Rausch, began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.