It’s tough to imagine yourself on the ice as a Tyke or Novice player, but try to remember what it was like. From their point of view, standing on one end of the rink and looking down to the other can feel like the distance is almost miles away. Younger players become easily exhausted because the ice surface they play on is too big for where they are in their development. Some solutions to fix this are by using small-area or cross-ice games during practices, and there are many unique ways for coaches to implement these new elements.
A player’s first introduction to the game of hockey needs to be in a positive, fun environment. The Initiation Program focuses on skill development without worrying about goals and standings. Players aged six and under can play in an age-appropriate setting.
“The Long Term Player Development model for hockey focuses on technical skills and individual tactics. That is one hundred percent of the focus at this time,” said Kevin Hamilton, OMHA Manager of Hockey Development. “There’s no team tactics or team plays or strategies that should form part of the curriculum at this age.”
Small area games create more puck battles and touches for participants. They use lateral movements and transitional skating along with the lighter ‘blue puck’ and smaller nets. These cross-ice games give players more opportunities with the puck in a smaller playing surface.
“We’re going to scale down everything in the game for the young players. It’s not unlike other sports that we see. Players in tennis have a smaller net and a smaller, lighter racket. In baseball the base paths are shorter. Virtually every sport that we know has a modified, scaled version for young people. That’s the intent of it, to create an environment that’s more appropriate to a player’s size and age.”
The numbers have shown that cross-ice hockey provides players with six times the amount of shots on net, five times more passes and twice as many one-on-one puck battles and touches. Small area games keep players engaged in the game without worrying about having the stamina to compete on a larger ice surface.