Behind the Bench: It’s All About Having Fun

CHAteams3Even when I first started coaching hockey way back when (last year), I had the sense that making sure my kids were always having fun should be at the top of my list. Not near the top of my list, but at the top of my list.

Today, as I evolve from a volunteer coach who simply wanted to be on the ice with my son, to a conscious coach who is beginning to understand the humbling reality of the role I play in these kids’ lives as a teacher and positive influence, I’m encouraged by the fact that much of what I’m being asked to teach is already in line with what I want to teach.

Being asked to teach? Yes. As a registered coach with USA Hockey, and with two boys registered as players, I’m currently being asked to teach/coach that which is consistent with their official player-development program, the American Development Model. More commonly referred to as, the ADM. There is a lot of science and research behind this model that was designed to “groom the next wave of American-born talent,” but I’m not going to hammer you with this stuff, mainly because I’m just now learning it myself, but also because I don’t think the nuts and bolts are necessary for a firm understanding of what USA Hockey is trying to accomplish.

For the age group I’m coaching, Mites, who are mostly 8 and under, it’s all about: having fun, keeping age-appropriate designs in focus, and fostering the bond of teammates. That’s really it.

Honestly, I think the age-appropriate stuff is the hardest thing to keep in check right now. I’ll get into this more in my next article as it deserves its own space, but in short, kids at this age with their short attention spans and tiny bodies simply need to be engaged. Waiting in a long line for their turn at a drill in practice = not engaged. Barely touching the puck in a game played on a full sheet of ice because 1-2 fast kids are dominating the play = not engaged. Boring drills = not engaged. Being one of the fast kids and never getting challenged for the puck = not engaged. It’s lose, lose all around when you really think about the way things used to be done.

Rotating through multiple stations with small groups of kids taking part in fun drills = engaged. Half ice games where every player of every skill-level is touching the puck = engaged.

And without even trying, these station-based practices and half ice games designed to keep active minds and tiny bodies constantly stimulated and engaged magically result in what’s most important above all else – having fun. The kids on my team LOVE stations to the point that when it’s time for the groups to rotate I literally have to “run” for cover as the next pack comes flying into my area at top speed, smiles on their faces as they fumble through the process of stopping on a dime and await the details of what they are doing next. When the weekend comes and it’s time to play our half ice games, even the slower kids who skate like robots touch the puck a ton, and most importantly, every-single-kid on our team has a smile on their face in the locker room afterwards. Every game, every time.

Want to take having fun to the next level? Introduce a soccer ball into practice and play dodge ball and watch the smiles on their faces triple in size. (In case you were wondering, the starting, stopping, quick turns and cutbacks that come as a result of playing this game are incredibly important skills to develop at this age.)

Did I know any of this a year ago? No. I knew having fun was important, but didn’t have any design in place to facilitate this. I just had the idea of fun in my head, the attitude, but now with specific drills and games to play in mind, I can not only ensure my kids are having fun, but developing important hockey skills at the same time.

With that in mind, “Behind the Bench” is a new series about my experiences and lessons learned as a hockey coach as they happen. It’s the perspective of a new coach who has two young children coming up through the ranks of USA Hockey. The last sentence written despite the fact that our 4-year-old might already be done with hockey.

They have benches in basketball, right?

To be continued…

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The Beginning
About Brad the Dad

Enjoy a unique, fresh and entertaining perspective on parenting as Brad the Dad learns what it takes to raise 2 boys in today's world. #DadsRT co-founder.

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