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Small Area Games, Big Rewards at 10U

By Michael Rand, USA Hockey, 09/26/19, 1:00PM CDT

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Bob Mancini shares how young players, specifically at a 10U level benefit from small-area games.

In talking recently to Bob Mancini about small-area games, it seemed as though we had inadvertently crossed over to the meaning of life itself.

“It teaches us everything, but it can teach us anything,” Mancini said.

But no, really, we were still taking about small-area games and how much benefit young players, particularly those at the 10U level, can derive from them.

What exactly did Mancini, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, mean by that? 

Anything Goes

Mancini is a big believer in small-area games for a number of reasons, but their utility and versatility are perhaps chief among them.

“Small-area games we tend to say are great because they teach competition, battle, and all of that is absolutely true,” Mancini said. “But as a coach we can direct and design small-area games to focus on any concept or topic that our players or teams need help on.

Want to learn about spacing? Or how to buy time with the puck? Making quick decisions? Those are all things that are going to be gleaned from small-area games.

“That’s the key – it’s not just random play to be creative,” he said. “It can be focused on any team or individual topic.”

Player-Centered

Another thing Mancini likes about small-area games is that they allow a practice to be centered around players instead of coaches barking out instructions during drills.

“Often our scripted drills have a tendency to make us as coaches feel better because we feel like we delivered information,” Mancini said. “But that’s not really the teaching process or leaning process. Just because we delivered it, doesn’t mean the learner gathered that information.”

Instead, a small-area game takes what is scripted and makes it a little messy. But it’s in those uncomfortable moments that growth is occurring.

“What they really do is allow the player to learn,” Mancini said. “What’s difficult about that is the learning process sometimes might take longer than we like and might be tough to watch, but in the end you’re going to have a much better result because it’s truly the player who has learned and gotten better.”

Take Your Vitamins

Giving up that level of control can be a challenge for some coaches, but the rewards are apparent.

“I think for the most part small-area games are much more accepted now than they are in the past and they continue to gain greater acceptance,” Mancini said. “Where I think it’s not a challenge but where we can still make strides is finding or making coaches understand that by giving up their perceived control, they are getting a better product.”

10U players tend to like small-area games because they don’t really feel like they’re working – they’re just playing and acquiring skills along the way.

“That whole idea of allowing the learning to happen is not a small concept. It doesn’t happen once a week or twice a week,” Mancini said. “Roger Grillo (another ADM regional manager) says small-area games are like taking daily vitamins. You need to take them every day, but they hide the good they’re doing. It’s a fantastic analogy.”

Progress, But Still Preach

Anyone still unconvinced of the benefits should look at the top levels of professional and college hockey, which incorporate small-area games into their work all the time with obvious benefits during games.

“The fact is I think every day our coaches throughout the United States are doing a great job incorporating small-area games into their practices,” Mancini said, “but that shouldn’t stop us from continuing to bring the message forward.”

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