Imagine playing hockey on a seemingly endless sheet of ice. You can see the puck but no matter how hard you try or how fast you skate you are never able to catch up to it. Suddenly, you find yourself trapped at one end of the rink, helplessly watching as the play moves toward the other end.
Ever wonder how a full-sized sheet of ice looks through a child’s eyes? USA Hockey put adult players on a hockey rink scaled to simulate what a child experiences when they play full-ice hockey. The results weren’t pretty, but they were captured in this video.
Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model took it all in and sat down for the following Q-and-A on the topic.
Q: What was the inspiration for building the up-scaled hockey rink at the Pond Hockey Championships?
Martel: As adults, it’s hard to imagine or remember what it was really like trying to play the game on a full-sized ice sheet. And for as much as we try to explain the benefits of cross-ice hockey for skill development and fun among young players, there’s nothing that conveys that message better than having adults actually experience the challenges of this up-scaled full-ice environment for themselves. So that was our inspiration – and it says something that we needed an eight-acre lake to do it.
Q: The adults who braved this up-scaled rink encountered some challenges in trying to play a cohesive hockey game. What proved to be the most difficult part for them?
Martel: First and foremost, they found that most of their time was spent just chasing the puck. It was harder for them to connect on passes, because the increased space affected their accuracy, and it also led to tons of interceptions. Then they realized that trying to carry the puck into scoring position was exhausting. It took them so many strides to cover the extra ice that they had no energy left to make a play. Not surprisingly, everybody got tired quickly. Then players began finding themselves way out of the play – not just on the periphery, but literally out of the play, like completely uninvolved, because there was just so much space. People were saying that it felt like they weren’t even playing hockey. As adults, they understood immediately how the surface size affected the game and changed it. Most of the time, nobody had the puck and nobody was able to consistently make plays with teammates. And the goalies were completely destroyed. First there were long stretches of time when they weren’t facing shots. Then, when a team would actually manage to get in a shooting position, the goalies had no chance of covering the up-scaled net, so they offered no resistance to the shooters and got demoralized. To put the whole thing in a nutshell, it provided an eye-opening experience, and it gave these adults a glimpse of the full-ice game through the eyes of an 8-year-old.
Q: And if it was frustrating for the adults, imagine what it’s like for young kids, right?
Martel: Exactly. The adults benefit from grown-up cognitive development, so they could see what was happening out there and make adjustments to their style of play, their expectations and their attitude. They have the mental discipline to persevere and make the best of things. Young kids aren’t fully developed cognitively, so it’s much harder for them to make those adjustments. They become disillusioned and turn their attention to something fun that keeps them engaged instead. And in the case of the best young players, they play full-ice hockey and get submerged in a version of the sport that isn’t realistic. It doesn’t challenge them to make enough actual hockey plays, so they’re playing a version of the sport that doesn’t make them better for the future. So not only is full-ice hockey impeding skill development, it’s also driving some kids away from the game completely.
Q: Did anyone come back for a second try?
Martel: Sure, for hockey junkies like our adult players, ice time is ice time. But when our crew wasn’t running our full-ice games for the video shoot, people quickly changed the big playing surface on their own, down-scaling it to cross-ice and playing a hockey version of half-court basketball. Nobody really wants to play on that big of an ice surface. I know we got what we wanted, giving the adults a chance to experience it, because it helped them understand why we’ve created the American Development Model and why it creates a better environment for kids.
A cutting-edge NHL analytics team put the test to youth hockey for the first time ever, comparing cross-ice hockey to full-ice hockey. Watch this video and see what you think.
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