I know many people cringe when my fellow coaches and I let our mites hockey players have a free skate at the beginning of ice slots. They probably shake their heads when we yell “free play” at the end. Here’s the thing; the kids don’t need coaches to figure out the game.
Think about kids up north who get to skate on the ponds and outdoor rinks before, during, and after school with no adults telling them where to skate to next. Hockey hotbeds like Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and New England produce some of the most talented and smartest skaters in the world. At young ages, they aren’t over-coached. Those kids are able to play together without adults imposing rules and structure which allows them to experiment, fail, and learn on the ice. They develop amazing game awareness and hockey sense.
Now, we all pay to play and be taught game fundamentals. Ice time is expensive. However, I say 7-10 minutes of unstructured play on the ice is just as valuable to the kids’ hockey development as the remaining 40 minutes of drills working on specific skills in a mites practice. If we can give our kids the opportunity to play hockey as kids without adult rules (but with adult supervision for safety), we will greatly enhance their development opportunities. Encourage the kids to do their own thing. Buy some street hockey gear and let them figure out the game on their own in the driveway. Take them to stick and shoot ice times and do not coach them. Let them play hockey and not work on hockey.
Don Lucia Under-8 Notes From Interview with Paul Willett – “We over-coach our kids today. Give kids the ice and they’ll figure it out. In fact, I’m willing to bet if young kids were just given the ice to play, with no coaching, they’d progress just as much, if not more.”