Mite Hockey Programs
The entry level hockey program in each community is the 8 and under group known as
mites. This is a critical level for the development of players but perhaps not for the
reasons most parents would believe.
Each year a number of programs struggle with what the best format is for the mite levels.
Parents with a hockey playing background argue for competitive games and segregating
the players by ability even with 6, 7 and 8 year olds. The truth of the matter is that this
type of thinking is long term detrimental to all of the kids in the program.
The youngest level of kids play T-Ball, on very small soccer fields with no rules and
basketball with lower nets play in smaller areas. In lacrosse the youngest players have
modified rules to promote skill development. Yet in hockey many well meaning parents
want their Mites to play on NHL or Olympic sized rink and play full ice games. Not only
is this ridiculous but playing full ice games will prevent the kids from developing as
players. Oh sure, the top few kids will dominate with so much open ice and score tons of
goals much to the delight of their parents and extended family that has come to watch the
next “great one”. This in itself sets those kids up for failure in the years ahead. But what
about all the rest of the other kids on the ice who never get to touch the puck? What are
they learning? How does this benefit them? Nothing and it does not benefit them.
Mite hockey is about having fun, developing a passion for the game, learning to skate and
handle the puck in confined areas just like the rinks we all grew up on playing outdoors a
couple generations ago. It is about all the kids playing and having a chance to score some
goals. For the kids who are a bit advanced the small area that cross ice games create
makes it much more difficult for them to dominate. This is good for the better skilled kids
as they hone their skills. The idea that by not playing full ice in mites will mean the kids
are falling behind other programs is simply not true. In fact, programs that use cross ice
games at the mite level see the skill levels of their kids going into squirts much higher as
a group than programs that still insist on full ice nonsense for mites.
Each mite session ideally includes a number of skill based activities and drills and then a
15-20 minute cross ice competition. This does not mean a 60 minute “game” for 6 year
olds with scoreboards, cheering fans and all the other things that go on in traditional
games. A couple cross ice mite jamborees each year provides plenty of fun and
excitement for players and their families.
I have had the opportunity to coach over 2,000 kids from mites all the way up through
college in the past thirty eight years. My personal observation is that we jump to games
far too early with our youngsters and we do not allow them to develop the fundamental
skills they need to be successful nor do they develop the passion they need to excel.
Games where they spend 60% of the time on the bench, parents who are more passionate
about the game than their kids and coaches with a burning desire to win all squeeze the
fun out of hockey for many kids.
The extensive research and studies by child development experts around the world all
support that point of view. I have travelled to Europe to see how they develop players. In
many European hockey playing countries they do not even begin playing games until the
kids are ten or eleven years old and have built a solid foundation in the skills required to
play the game. Several of those countries, which have fewer hockey players that we have
here in Minnesota, develop many more elite level players than we do. They understand
the development process and that kid need to have passion for the game. This passion to
play and creativity is nurtured at the younger levels. We have a tendency to move ahead
too quickly before the passion or skills develop.
Parents all want what they think is best for their kids. Unfortunately when it comes to
youth sports most parents do not recognize that the development process is a slow and
steady marathon instead of a mad dash sprint. Kids grow and develop at different times
and we need to keep them all involved as they mature. Minnesota Hockey is a leader in
maintaining a wide youth base to keep kids playing as long as possible so they all have a
chance to physically and mentally develop.
Youth hockey boards around the state need to structure their mite programs in line with
the proven methods and formats from USA Hockey and the other top hockey federations
around the world. Although some parents at the mite levels will push the local hockey
boards to play traditional hockey, the board members must remember that these parents
are just like their kids, beginners. Spend time educating the parents and involving them in
what can be a great experience for them and their kids.
Coach in Chief, Minnesota Hockey