How early can youngsters be taught to play “systems hockey”?
Many people have varying opinions on the correct answer to this question… and, as is often the case with philosophical hockey questions, there is more than one correct answer. The answer depends on the physical skills of your players, the mental maturity of your players, and the manner in which the systems are taught and implemented. In this video, I discuss my own personal opinions on the matter, and why I believe what I believe.
When I was 8 years old, my dad had this idea of taking the top-caliber kids from around the city, and keeping essentially the same kids together for 5 years. The end goal of his vision was to win an Ontario Championship at the “AAA” level.
As 8-year-olds, we were taught to play systems hockey based on a “color-coded” breakout set-up. Our individual skills were advanced enough that we were able to complete the patterns of a structured breakout system, even though we weren’t quite ready to read the play ourselves. So, my dad gave each breakout option a color, and he would read the pressure and call out the play from the bench. We would hear it, and react accordingly. As we got older, we were taught to read the play for ourselves and make our own decisions.
This color-coded breakout system allowed us to learn “systems hockey” years before other teams in our league. I mention a few of our team’s successes in the video.
WARNING: Do not let systems and positional development rob individual skill development. They can both be developed simultaneously if practices are structured correctly.