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US Speedskating Small Sided

Small sided games are a very hot topic in the world of youth sports development. Simply put, a small sided game is the downsizing of the sport to match the size of the athletes participating in it. Growing up we never played T-Ball on a MLB Field, and our first time playing soccer wasn’t on a full size field and the ball was lighter in weight. Growing up as a Mite (U8) hockey player, I played hockey on a full size NHL rink, struggling to keep up I rarely got to touch the puck and it was even more rare to score. In practice we frequently played across the ice on a make shift rink that allowed multiple teams to practice at once. I loved practicing on cross ice hockey, I got more touches, more passes, and more goals. It was much more competitive and it was a way more fun and satisfying game.

Fast forward to 2012, USA Hockey mandated cross ice for U8 as part of their revolutionary Long Term Athletic Development Model  (LTAD) dubbed the American Development Model (ADM). About 10 years later they began to see more players from the USHL (A junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey) drafted by the NHL than ever before.

USA Hockey has found that cross ice develops the critical sport specific skills needed in a much more efficient manner than on full ice. Players are getting twice as many puck touches, twice as many pass attempts, six times more shots, five times more passes received, and so on and so on. Most importantly, it’s more fun and it looks like hockey!!!

USA Tennis, US Lacrosse, USA Basketball, USA Volleyball, USA Archery, USA Rowing, and many more have all adopted small sided games to help better develop skills and provide a better learning environment and experience to children. With all this evidence supporting small sided games, US Speedskating (USS) will also be following suite with an 85 meter track.

The 85m track is designed to do three things;

1.     Get skaters into a position that more resembles the position they will be in once they grow bigger

2.     Give them more repetitions in that position (i.e. more turns)

3.      Create more enjoyment by creating an environment where kids can improve and succeed

Up to the age of around 12 years old, children have an enhanced ability to learn new skills, it is often called “the golden age of skill development”. The 85m track is designed to capitalize on this window of increased neuroplasticity. By constraining the environment the skaters will lean more, allowing them to hit that tricky left outer edge earlier than on the wider radius of the 111m track. The smaller radius of an 85m track will also allow them to get their hip into the corner along with improved all around body position. Additionally their rhythm of two straightaway strokes and three to five crossovers will more closely match that used on a 111m track. Best of all the 85m track will give them 30% more opportunities skating in a higher quality position will ultimately maximize their speed skating skill development at the right stage of their overall development.

Beginning in the 2020-2021 season USS will require all sanctioned competitions with an age group format to run all U8 (Junior F) racing and half of all offered racing distanced for  U10 (Junior E) to be raced on a 85m track. Competitions utilizing an ability based format will be asked to utilize the 85m track at their discretion for i.e. novice skaters.