Youth hockey is designed to be fun. The main goal of each coach and their overall governing hockey association should be to develop skill at all levels. There are five mistakes that can hinder these goals:
1) Playing at a level higher than you should
Some teams like to have that extra "A" after their name, which is often done because the leadership of that team (coaches, parents, association) want to "push" their players and "see how they stack up against the higher level teams." What can often happen is that the team gets into a situation where they are constantly outgunned by teams from larger geographical areas with more talent to draw from that have an overall higher skill level with a deeper bench. What is learned from this? It can lead to a season where kids are frustrated and will have their confidence reduced, or worse yet--may quit hockey all together out of frustration.
2) Fielding a team with too few players
Ideally, a team should have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. This isn't always possible in smaller, more rural areas. If that is the case, these short-manned teams should consider playing at a lower level in order to compete. Teams with 10-12 players, no matter how good they are, will lose steam in the third period playing against teams with a full bench. There will also be times during the season when kids get injured or sick and the team will really be short-benched.
3) Putting too many games on the schedule
More games equates to more ice time and better skill development, right? Wrong. Youth players earn their skills from a full season of organized, high tempo practices, not games. Games are the fun that kids earn from working hard in practice. Playing too many games is time consuming, more costly, and can burn even the most ardent young athletes and their parents out. A schedule of fewer than 50 games (including tournaments and playoffs) is plenty.
4) Emphasizing physical play over skill
Checking and physical play is part of the game. It needs to be taught properly; when to use it and how to use it safely and effectively to remove a player from the puck. Teaching stick-handling, puck movement, shooting, and positioning will always be more important than instructing players to "goon it up."
5) Not correcting dangerous play or bad sportsmanship
When a youth player makes a mistake, a coach should pull him aside and calmly explain what went wrong and how to fix it in a fashion that doesn't embarrass the player. If the behavior is dangerous or disrespectful, such as fighting, hits from behind, talking back to officials, etc., more serious action needs to be taken. The best way to correct a bad behavior is to sit a player, plain and simple. Playing the game is the best part of the sport. Sitting a shift sends a signal that bad behavior is not tolerated, and too many coaches do not use this tool out of fear of reprisal from parents. Parents need to allow the coach to sit a player at their discretion without questioning his decision.