From their first few moments on the ice, young hockey players tend to adopt a pretty simple strategy: find the puck, get the puck, shoot the puck. But when is the right time to introduce youth players to a more nuanced approach to the game?
Depending on their age and skill level, players can be taught the basic points of breakouts, zone play and special teams. And learning these systems can potentially increase both their appreciation and aptitude for the game.
"There are a lot of differences in opinion here. The coaches in travel hockey want to use systems. Whereas coaches and parents in house hockey just want the kids to have fun," says Dick Bertrand, a former head coach at Cornell and Ferris State who most recently served as the director of hockey for the East Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association. "You need a less formal way of using systems. Put them all in position and just walk them through different breakouts. Practice it until they get it and then move on from there. Really, that's what the game is all about."
While youth house league teams might not necessarily have the time or experience needed to employ diagramed hockey systems, traveling teams at the peewee [12 years old and younger], bantam [14 and younger] and midget [16 and younger] are generally considered ready for a more strategic take on the game. The key, especially with younger players, is to keep things simple.