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Why All Ages and Levels Can Benefit from Small Area Games

By Dan Pollard, 11/28/18, 2:00PM EST


Turning an introductory concept into a development tool

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

One of the most talked about ideas over the last couple of years in hockey is Small Area Games. Players of any age or skill level can enjoy this great way to incorporate competition into practices. With an increased tempo, engagement and fun, these games check all the boxes for coaches what coaches want. Joe Birch, the Senior Director of Hockey Development and Special Events with Ontario Hockey League, joined the Breakaway Podcast to discuss the benefits he’s seen from these games.

For years, many professional teams across the world have been using modified ice and small area games. It’s been evident in the growth of talent from the international game, with players from Sweden, Finland and the United States leaving their mark in the standings. These top level players have benefited from modified ice being a part of their development programs for a long time. Small area games and modified ice begin as age-appropriate for those in Programming Novice and Below but it continues to be a valuable developmental tool for older players to benefit from.

“When you look at the game and the way that’s it’s played at every level, it’s in those small little circles, it’s in those tight areas,” said Birch. “To not be teaching that an early age and how to play 2-on-2 low inside a faceoff dot, you’re only doing a disadvantage if you’re a coach by not encouraging your players to play this way.”

Playing on outdoor rinks in backyards and parks creates a limited space where players have to be mindful and creative when battling for pucks. Reducing the playing surface reinforces concepts and skills that are learned in practice no matter the age. When kids are playing games and any competition, parents will see that if they are engaged, then all of the skills are going to be enhanced and the opportunity to work on those skills is increased.

“I think one of the things that we’re missing here sometimes is a little bit of free play. There’s so much structure… One of the things that I think has been lost is just that ability to go play. Different age groups and you’re all battling for one puck or multiple pucks, 10 or 12 or 15 kids on the ice at one time. That actually is where I think a lot of players learn skills and hockey IQ and how to protect pucks by just actually playing and being creative and not being so structured all the time.”

With an increased amount of changes in directions and starts and stops, skating is improved. An intangible benefit of small area games is how players can develop their hockey HQ because of how quick the action is.

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“Improving your skating and edgework, I think the small area can really do a great benefit to try to help player’s think quicker. You don’t have the option. You have less space you have less time, so you have to actually react quicker and now you develop your hockey IQ and your hockey sense along with those other skills – skating, edgework, quicker releases on shots.”

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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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