8U: No lines, no laps, no lectures
Posted by Dean Holden at January 3rd, 2014
by Jessi Pierce, 5 December 2013
More puck touches, more coaches and more smiles. Station-based practices bring more of everything to the 6U/8U levels, including fun and development.
What makes the station-based strategy so effective?
“One of the things we talk about at 8U is the key line of ‘No lines, no laps and no lectures,’” said Bob Mancini, regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model. “Station-based practices encompass all of that, where kids aren’t waiting around in line, or doing something as boring as skating laps or listening to a coach break down one drill.
“They are constantly engaged and constantly learning, which leads to a passion for the game, and that’s something they will keep beyond that first 8U level. That’s something we want them to keep and something so important to us right from the start.”
Splitting practices into six to eight stations provides the ideal practice experience for your Mite (and their coaches) for a number of reasons. Mancini and John Luetkemeyer, director of coaches in the Kirkwood Youth Hockey Association outside of St. Louis, break it down for us.
Focus on Various Skills: One practice is able to cover a wide array of skills, crucial for 8U players. One group works on skating, another on passing and so on.
“8U players are not yet ready to perform complex drills and drills with lots of decisions,” said Mancini. “With stations, you’re really able to focus on not just a single skill but technique and learning some of the basics.”
Coach-to-Player Ratio: Smaller groups at different stations allows coaches to work with kids more directly.
“Coaches can focus on kids and focus on the age-appropriate practice,’” said Luetkemeyer. “With more kids on the ice, you allow more adults. So rather than two or four coaches for 20 kids, we have 10 or 15 out there for 30 kids.”
Time Efficient, Cost Effective: So much more can be accomplished in an hour-long station-based practice. Spending approximately 5-8 minutes per station allows enough time for players to learn without losing focus and interest.
“Before ADM and station-based practices, you might be doing a drill for 10 or 12 minutes and you don’t realize that the kids get bored,” said Luetkemeyer. “Kids aren’t executing the drill like it’s supposed to be done by the end of it, especially for these 8U players. With these quick rotations, it’s perfect for their attention span.”
Using ice time more efficiently also makes hockey more cost-effective for parents. Instead of standing in line or being lectured, kids are constantly working on skills, maximizing the value of each practice.
Learn at Your Own Pace: Luetkemeyer remembers his nephew, Cooper, growing up and playing a variety of sports. Ultimately, Cooper quit them all after feeling like he wasn’t a good enough athlete to compete.
In his second year of Mites, his hockey association started incorporating station-based practices. That’s when Cooper’s attitude changed.
“The excitement in his eyes when he said ‘I don’t know how I got so good’ and that enthusiasm was so amazing to see,” said Luetkemeyer. “He’s still playing hockey – now a freshman – and isn’t a standout by any means, but USA Hockey got a lifer with the help of these practices and showing him the fun and passion of the sport.”
During stations, everyone is grouped together, learning and playing at their own pace and speed without the pressure to keep up.
Keep it Fun: As with all aspects of hockey, the main reason station-based practices work is because players love them. Working in stations both on and off the ice keeps practices fresh and fun for all ages.