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Developing Age-Appropriate Skills through Player Pathways

By Dan Pollard, 03/20/19, 8:15AM EDT


Hockey Canada Pathways designed for programming, seasonal structure, lesson plans

Photo Credit: Picture Day Photography

Designed to ensure age-appropriate programming, seasonal structure and lesson plans, the Hockey Canada Player Pathways help parents, coaches and administrators understand what skills and concepts should be taught during the season.

“Everybody really bought into the concept that things needed to happen for young players in our system in certain ways at certain age levels,” said Paul Carson, Vice-President - Hockey Development with Hockey Canada. “Through the early stages of involving the Long Term Player Development model, we started to really define what that meant in each age group. The original document, as much as it’s a detailed document and has scientific information in it, it doesn’t really go into detail in each age group. Right from Initiation through to Midget hockey and then on to Junior hockey, what should happen in a player’s hockey pathway through the system?”

Like what teachers use in the classroom, lesson plans have been built for a progressive approach on teaching skills over the course of a season. These Player Pathways aren’t a significant change but rather a different perspective of looking at things.

When adults watch the professional game on television it’s easy to think that’s what hockey should look like. We sometimes forget that we are working with kids who need to work through the age-appropriate steps when first learning the sport.

“We lose sight of a really important theoretical piece, which is what is appropriate for kids at each age level. What can their skill manage and what should we expect from them in terms of what the game looks like when they play? The challenge is meshing the theoretical with the practical.”

While the mandate of modified ice may be just a few years old, the recommendations of shrinking the ice surface for this age group have existed for over 30 years. Modified ice and station-based practices have been part of the Initiation Program since 1986. It’s important to understand why decisions were made and why it will be better for children at each age level.

“I think it’s really important that people have the education, that they have the information and the understanding of why these changes take place or why these adjustments are being enforced now as opposed to left at the recommendation level.”

Concepts like forechecking and breakout systems can be taught at an older age while the game’s youngest participants should be focusing on building the fundamental skills of passing, puck control and shooting before learning the more complex aspects of the game.

“The idea behind our youngsters in sport is a marathon, not in a sprint. I always use the expression ‘You can’t be in a hurry to get to Grade 12. You get to Grade 12 around 16 or 17 years of age. You don’t go to school 12 months of the year, cram it all in, and then hope that you can get Grade 12 finished by the time you’re 12 or 13.”

The Pathways are set up so players can develop their skillsets at an age-appropriate pace. An increased emphasis on fun is in place, with an increased number puck touches, puck battles, passes and shots in a modified ice setting.

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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