Q: My child is 9 years old and playing at the 10U level. Now that they are playing full-ice hockey, should I be concerned that the team is using station-based practices and small-area games instead of practicing on a full ice surface?
A: Absolutely not. In fact, you should give your child’s coaches a high five next time you see them and thank them for providing an optimal development environment.
In the big picture of youth hockey, individual player development should trump team development and team results every day of the week. Too many coaches and parents get caught up in following the scoreboard and standings. In reality, players don’t become better hockey players or reach their full athletic potential based on whether their team wins or loses. They become better hockey players by improving all of their skills over time. These skills include both the tangible and intangible. Does his or her skating improve? How about his or her stickhandling, passing, receiving, shooting ability, ability to score, defending ability, hockey sense, etc.? By practicing in small areas, all of these skills will improve over time — and improve more efficiently — due to the increased amount of repetitions and game-like situations they experience.
In essence, what your child’s coaches are doing is creating a beneficial playground type of environment for your child. Kids learn when they are playing and having fun. There is no better way to bring the game to their level and do so in an age-appropriate setting than fitting the practice and playing area to their size.