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Deflections - I don't understand


Sometimes I just don’t know what to say. This will come as a shock to friends in the hockey community who’d swear I’m never at a loss for words.

In a coaching clinic discussion about effective use of practice ice – half or shared, etc. – there was an examination of the space most suitable to different age groups. A number of coaches said their tyke, novice, and atom (ages 7 to 10) teams often had full-ice practices. They recognized though that nearly everything they did could be done in a smaller space.

This segued into a chat about adapting drills and using small area games, and from that came the inevitable look at minor hockey’s structure. I posed this question: “What children’s activity does not make adaptations to size or developmental age?” Instantly, a few coaches said hockey. And then we went through the list of things that are the same for seven year olds as 17-year-olds in midget: rules, puck, nets, penalty lengths, bench. The only change is in game length.

If we agree that adapting practices to their size and development is logical and proper, I suggested, why not games and seasons? How come minor hockey is pretty much the only children’s activity stuck in a time warp? Should we change it?

One coach raised his hand and said no. Why, I asked. It’s fine right now, he said. What’s your rationale, I asked. Nothing wrong with the way it is. Always been this way, he said. True, I agreed. But, I said, if you already agree that smaller space is suitable for practice, isn’t it logical it should be for games, too? He shook his head. No. That’s not the way the game is played.

Which is when I paused at the front of the room, perfectly tongue-tied by his comments. I didn’t understand. I peered at some faces and it appeared they didn’t either.

For the previous 20 minutes, we’d discussed the advantages of small area games, how we could take fancy drills from older levels and mold them into usable formats for kids, etc. Somewhere in the leap from practice to game that day, the fellow’s impenetrable wall of tradition got built.

I moved on to the next topic, but for the rest of the day, his attitude nagged at me. Five or ten years ago, he wouldn’t have been alone. There’d have been a lot of shaking heads. This time, the shaking heads weren’t in his favour. The numbers of coaches who really believe the game should be identical for little kids as teenagers has dwindled dramatically.

Should I have been surprised? Perhaps not. Or maybe it wasn’t surprise at all. Maybe it’s continual disbelief. In the face of everything we know about growth and development and given how every other kid’s activity has made major adjustments, there are still hockey people who don’t understand.

Which is what I don’t yet understand.

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