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Remember what it was like teaching your kid to ride their first bike? The excitement when they first saw the bike. The rush to get outside and try it for the first time and of course, there’s the big decision on when to take off the training wheels.
For many kids, that time can’t come fast enough, but inevitably, the question going through your head was likely, “Are they ready?”
It’s a question that presents itself over and over again as kids grow up including their time in youth hockey. A great example of that is when parents consider moving their child up a level ahead of his or her age group.
“A lot of parents want their kids to move up early,” said Minnesota Coach-in-Chief, Christian Koelling. “Usually, it’s probably not the best thing for the kid.”
“The first thing I’ve always told people when I’m asked about moving up early is there’s nothing wrong with being the best player on your team. The second thing is that if you’re a player who is put into a position of leadership and playing in key situations because you’re one of the better players, that’s great for development. The third thing that I’ve always looked at is if a kid is emotionally and socially ready to make that step up. Something that people often forget is a player may be skilled enough as a hockey player but may not be ready to move up emotionally or socially.”
Be the Best
It’s natural for parents to want their kids to be challenged and pushed beyond their comfort zone so they can continue to improve. However, it’s also important not to lose sight of the benefits that come with being the best in your age group.
“A lot time players that push hard to move up believe they’re not going to get better or they’re going to fall behind or they’re going to lose their edge by staying down,” said Koelling. “I don’t think that’s true, especially at the younger ages.”
At those ages, players will actually benefit more in the long run by staying with their age group, focusing on skill development and gaining confidence.
“You also have the opportunity to hopefully score a lot of goals, and I think that’s really important too,” said Koelling. “Learning to score is a skill and developing the confidence that comes from playing at your natural level is extremely valuable.”
A Leadership Lesson
One of the most important lessons players can learn from sports is how to be a leader in a group of people. It’s a characteristic that can’t be learned in a classroom or by reading a book. You have experience leadership first hand to really understand what it means.
“Usually, if you’re one of the best players, your teammates look to you as a leader,” said Koelling. “You can’t get that by playing up.”
Whether it’s be counted on during key moments of games to provide that clutch goal, setting the tone at practice or responding to adversity, leadership roles provide kids with unique lessons that will help them throughout their career, both on and off the ice.
Evaluating Overall Maturity
In addition to the physical and mental parts of hockey, it’s also important for parents to consider the emotional and social sides of the game when debating if their kid should move up.
“Are they ready to be in a locker room and be surrounded by teammates that are two or possibly three or four years older than them if it’s the high school level,” asked Koelling. “The social side of it should also be examined, and the impact it would have for this kid to be taken out of his group of friends and his group of peers and put into another group.”
“Those are two things that almost always get overlooked when you’re making that decision. It’s not just a hockey decision. It has to do with the overall well-being of the kid as well.”