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Youth Hockey Formats

We now have a generation of young player who wants to feel empowered, work collaboratively with others, have a choice and ultimately wants to be active in the learning process but does our training and game formats represent this? Let’s talk about game formats...

If we were to fly over the hockey capital, Holland, on a youth match-day we would see their youngest youth (U8) playing 3v3 in half a quarter with two goals simply marked by cones or mini-goals. That is 8 games and a minimum of 48 players fully active at one time. Why two goals I hear you say? Players begin to develop greater awareness of their surroundings, identifying available spaces both on and off the ball. Clubs would select teams of 8, before splitting into 2 teams of 4 to play 3v3. Though, if one team is too strong this can easily become a 4vs3 and a much more evenly contested game.

It is worth noting as well that the Dutch do not record or post results online until U12s, shifting the focus away from playing- to-win to playing-to-play. Come to the older age groups and there is a National 3v3 Tournament where players are invited to enter their own teams before battling it out for the ABN AMRO Cup at HC Rotterdam - How cool is that?!

Move over to the continually rising Belgium and you would see a very similar youth format but with 4v4 and a single goal (Again, no goalkeepers!). In Spain, you would more than likely see U14s growing into the full field dimensions by playing 9v9 on 3/4 of a field. Head to South Africa however and you would see U12s playing full field 11v11, now that is scary!!

Are these small-sided game formats contributing ingredients to the national success of both Holland and Belgium? Amongst many other cultural and environmental ingredients, you would think the smaller more individualised youth formats put them on the front foot. These formats create more opportunities to play under pressure, in-turn developing confidence on the ball and a greater understanding of space with and without the ball. Such playing attributes will forever be critical to the game of hockey, no matter what the game looks like in years to come.

The youth game should be centred around developing each individual and providing continual opportunities for growth.

As coaches, clubs and schools we are in a powerful yet dangerous position, one poor experience and we may never see that individual step onto the turf again.

Here are a few of challenges for you this season 1) Ask the players what they want and would change, reflect on their feedback 2) Speak to the opposition before a fixture to create the right format which best fits your players and their development level.

Want support for your coaches? Get in touch via to book a development session with tons of ideas for your environment.

Go well and stay in touch,

Jack Rolfe

@JPR_25 / @The_CoachingLab /

Featured as part of Hockey World News issue 12, September 2019.


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