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It's Okay To Be The Best Player

The allure of 'moving up' to a higher level of hockey is stronger than ever.

Your child dominated year one of Peewees. He or she scored 30-plus goals on the top line, and had a lot of fun doing it. Other parents and coaches are commenting on how skilled he/she is out there.

The allure of “moving up” to a higher level of hockey is stronger than ever.

Why should you stick around for another year? Wouldn’t it be better to move up to Bantams and join the big kids? It definitely sounds like a better opportunity to be a 12-year-old playing with the 14-year-olds. After all, you want your child to be challenged and pushed to reach his or her potential.

“It’s absolutely the wrong thinking process,” said Pat O’Leary, head boys’ hockey coach at Wayzata High School. “Whatever happened to being dominant at every level you play at?"

Many players and parents underestimate how difficult it is to jump to the next level and, for O’Leary, the benefits of being the best player on the ice far outweigh taking the chance of moving up a bit early.

Here are five areas to consider before moving up.


Each specific age group from Mites to Bantams is designed around Long Term Athlete Development – working to get the best development for every player. At each age group is a specific window of trainability. Move a player up too soon out of that age-specific window and odds are you’re doing more harm than good when it comes to his or her development.

“I’ve never found moving up a benefit for player development,” USA Hockey National Coach-in-Chief and Director of CCM Minnesota Hockey High Performance programs Mike MacMillan said. “I don’t buy that just because you’re playing up that is going to make you better. And in a lot of cases, it stunts the growth of some of those top kids.

“Players need to focus on mastering the skill levels and windows they are at before they even consider moving up to try to learn the next one. You might be good after year one of Squirts or Peewees, but year two is designed to improve and become even better. It’s about being patient in development. There are more Ryan McDonaghs in the world that were just patient with their development.”

O’Leary agrees, adding: “I’d rather see a player come back a second year with improvements made to his skating or passing or some area, even if it was superior to some of his teammates, than to see him move on too soon and struggle.

“When that happens, you’re not only affecting his on-ice ability, but his off-ice perception of his own abilities, too.”


Success fuels confidence. If your child moves up too soon, odds are that production isn’t going to be as high, and thus confidence in ability can go down. There is nothing wrong with being the best player on the team.

“From a confidence standpoint moving up is extremely detrimental,” said MacMillan. “What’s wrong with being that kid that scored 30-plus goals? Now you have the confidence to do it again in your second year. Without confidence, a player doesn’t think he or she can accomplish much and putting a kid lacking confidence in any game situation is never going to have a positive outcome.”

Players can find confidence in improving from year one to year two at the same level, too. That’s a quality coaches love to see.

“As a coach, having a kid who doesn’t make the best team his entire career and plays at the level he’s meant to be playing is a great thing because it means he knows how to work hard and you know that he wants to always keep improving,” O’Leary said. “If you’re in the right spot for you, you’re going to succeed because you’re learning and you’re having fun. You’re actually touching the puck every game and at practice, and that’s what’s important. Every year has to be a battle, and every year you have to try to get better.”


You play hockey because you get to play with your friends, your classmates. If you move up a year too soon, you’ll find yourself no longer playing with the kids you get to see in school every day.

Isn’t it more fun to go to school on Monday able to recap the weekend’s hockey tournament with your buddies before class starts?

“You never ever, no matter the age, want to overlook the friendship aspect,” O’Leary said. “In college or high school, sure you’re going to have friends of all ages, but when you’re young your friends are those ones who are in your class every day. That’s how the friendship bond grows off the ice.”


Physically your body stature might fit in with the older kids, but mentally it is a different story.

“Especially as kids get older and hit puberty, they’re not mentally mature enough to handle it,” MacMillan said. “Mentally they might not be ready to handle the pressure or even just the level of chat in the locker room. Science tells us that the brain of a 12-year-old isn’t going to be where the brain of a 14-year-old is at.”


You play hockey because it’s fun. Sure there are dreams of a future playing the game, but as a kid the focus should be on the love of the game, not the love for a potential NHL career.

Focus on playing where you’re at. Don’t worry about the quickest route to get you there.

“Enjoy every single year you play,” O’Leary said. “Whether it’s the B2-Squirts, A-Squirts or B-Bantam, enjoy the game that you’re playing because it goes fast. There will be a time that it doesn’t matter what team you played for, but the fact that you played will stay with you forever.”

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