Don’t Forget About The “Middle” Kids in Youth Sports

Minor Hockey Youth Hockey Ice Hockey Coach

There lies a problem in the development of Jr athletes, and this is the kids that sit in the middle of the ability group.  Anyone that has spent time around any Jr sport set up will know the middle kids, they are the ones that progress at a steady rate but are not the stars on the team nor the lower ability kids on the team. 

And this is where the problem lies, coaches give extra attention to the stars, these are the kids that train up and play up to a higher age group.  This gives them the chance to pit themselves against more developed, better and more experienced players, so, they grow because of this. 

And the lower ability kids get extra attention from the coaches too, these kids may not just be less “gifted” they can also be kids that join a sport/team at a later age, these are the 11 year olds starting in a sport in a under 12s team that has kids on that team that have spent time on the under 10s and moved up, and, may have three seasons under their belt already.  But these lower ability kids get extra attention from the coaches because they are trying to bring these players up to the standard that the team requires.  So, these kids get an extra dose of one on one coaching or they get the chance to double their training sessions by training with the lower age group as well as their age group.

I am not saying that this is an issue, this is exactly what coaches should do, try to move those star players to the next level to get them ready to move up age groups.  And they should obviously focus on the lower ability kids, that is the role of the coach, to push these kids to get them to a standard that works for their teams.

But……. What happens to those middle kids…?  The ones that turn up every week, work hard but do not progress at the same rate..?  is this just that they aren’t suited to progress fast or is it, that these kids can get “lost” in the process of the coaches focusing on the lower ability and star kids. 

These are the kids that just get the one training session, they are not deemed good enough to train up an age group, nor bad enough to warrant training in the lower age group to gain that extra session.  So, what do these kids do, they plod on gaining a lower amount of attention and training than the other two groups week in week out.  The result is that these kids are the ones at risk of losing interest, of drifting away from their chosen sport, and that is a real loss for the kids and the teams. 

So how should the teams address this issue…?  My opinion is extra coaches, all coaches should have an assistant or two and these assistants should be tasked by the head coach to focus on these middle kids, give them that extra one on one training, watch them and focus on what it is about their game that needs improving to move them up a level. 

I am looking at this from an ice hockey point of view but this can apply to every sport.  So, from that point of view, the assistants should be looking at their skating, stick handling, confidence on the puck, shooting technique etc.  Then they can focus in on this area to make the kid feel they are getting more attention, making the parents think that the money spent on this sport is worth it to see their kids challenged and progress.  We have a problem with Ice Hockey in this country, and focusing on keeping kids in the sport is only going to help keep the interest level in the sport up and in the long term it’s going to create more players in the higher levels. 

My main point here is that it’s not the lower ability kids that we are at risk of losing interest and drifting away from the sport like the common perception says.  It is these middle kids that feel like they are not getting the attention that their teammates are getting.  And this is no criticism of coaches, it is meant to support them.  I am saying that we need more coaches, we need to bring on the junior or assistant coaches, there is nothing wrong with utilizing an under 18s, under 20s player to step in and learn from the head coach and be tasked with focusing on the middle kids.  It improves their game at the same time, they are learning coaching techniques and the kids they are coaching are kids that will be looking up to these players anyway, so who better to listen to and learn from. 

I am not a coach, I have stepped on the ice to “help out” with training in the past and I have been around the game for a long time and still occasionally get kitted up and play, so, no I am not a coach, but I do know what I am seeing and felt the need to air it.

Let’s not forget these middle kids, these are the good team players, these are the kids playing that pass for your star players to score from, these are the kids making that last second poke check to deprive the opposition from scoring.  These are the heartbeat of the team, they need to feel that and they need that extra attention to keep the progression and the interest going.

Sincerely,

A Hockey Dad    

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