Like the Coach Developing Framework, which was introduced as part of the new IIHF Development Hub, the Learn to Play Manual is a coaches’ aid.
But unlike the CDF, it is not a brand-new initiative of the IIHF, as is evident in the sheer size of the document which goes over 300 pages.
Learn to Play (LTP) was created in 2000 and its main objective is to give boys and girls aged six through nine “the ultimate hockey experience”. As stated in its introduction: “Hockey at this level should be based on having fun, participation by all, and being taught basic hockey skills. This program is based on these ideals.”
“When you compare it to the Coach Development Framework, the Learn to Play Manual is very similar but a bit more detailed,” said IIHF Membership Development Manager Aku Nieminen. “It gives easy-to-apply guidance for the different stakeholders to use when introducing the game to beginners.”
The manual is divided into six sections: Introduction, Leadership Coaching Basics, Teaching and Learning, Organisation and Planning, Playing Rules for Players Under 10 Years Old and Practice Manual.
Whereas the CDF covers all aspects of coaching all skill and age levels, the coach’s primary role in LTP is teaching the basic skills of hockey to beginner players. That also means it has to be geared to less experienced coaches.
“With the LTP program, we want to support them with ready-to-use practice packages and more insight into the development of young players who are not mini-adults.”
The goal of LTP is for each player to:
- Have fun and enjoy hockey
- Be involved in activities that are challenging and ongoing
- Receive reinforcement from coaches
- Experience success to build positive self-esteem
- Play in unstructured activities
- Have adapted game situations
- Be introduced to the concepts of cooperation and sportsmanship
- Increase physical development
- Refine basic motor patterns
“There is no difference in planning and organizing practices for other youth categories,” said Bollue. “We try to create an environment in which the player and his development are central. Of course, provided that the biological development phase of the age group is taken into account. Most important is to be organized and ready. Make sure you have a plan.”
“The main focus is on the fundamental movement skills,” said Bollue. “The ABCs – agility, balance and coordination, hockey skills – skating and puck control – and promoting multi-sports participation.”
While practices for young players are slightly different than for those of older ages, the games look a little bit different too. Obviously, smaller players are better served by playing on a smaller ice surface – usually a regulation sheet divided in half by some sort of barrier so that two games can be played simultaneously – as well as lighter nets, sticks and pucks.
These rules enable the children to develop hockey skills in an environment that fosters fun, learning, participation by all, and mental and physical development.
“These children love to play,” Bollue said of the under-10 age group. “Their goal is not to develop into a hockey player, but they play hockey mainly because it is exciting and fun! Unconsciously and playfully discover things in a vast wonderland instead of an ice sheet with dimensions and rules that limit their exploration. We make a game or adventure out of everything, even for cleaning up the stuff.”
For anyone who has watched kids of this age play hockey, a noticeable feature is most of the players on the ice chasing the puck around, somewhat resembling a swarm of bees. Everyone wants to get the puck and go for a skate with it.
“A few prefer to watch and shoot the puck far away but for most players, the following applies: where the puck is, you have to be,” said Bollue. “And that's fine. The attraction of the puck is also important in the development of skills on and with the puck. Me and the rest of the world, healthy egocentricity, this is what typifies these players and that will pass automatically. Overplaying is not part of the game, but stickhandling and going on an adventure with the puck is what it's all about!”