Record number of 8U teams in 2016 a major boon for IHAAZ
Matt Robinson of the Prescott Storm has witnessed firsthand the growth of the 8U programs in the Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ).
A total of seven teams in that age group, which is a record by the way, will be competing this season in the IHAAZ festivals. In fact, the Storm will have two teams this year.
The Knighthawks, Jr. Wildcats, and Yuma Blaze also have teams competing in the festival in 2016.
Robinson said he can’t wait and is thrilled the numbers are up, not only in Prescott, but in the league as a whole.
“We’ve added a second team because we’ve had such high participation numbers,” Robinson said. “We’re really excited about the way our program has grown and the way the sport has grown in general in that age group.”
Robinson noted that one of the reasons he believes there has been growth in the 8U age group is because more parents are getting their children involved in the game. As for what is emphasized at that age level, Robinson said it’s about the fundamentals.
“We’re teaching them about the game, particularly skating,” said Robinson. “We’re not worried as much about positions or running plays. The players seem to respond very well to it. They see how much fun they can have out there.”
He also tries to build the confidence of his players.
“We try to match their skill level in games so that more players do get a chance to score a point,” Robinson said. “Sometimes that is all it takes. They gain a lot of confidence from it.”
Rob Kostadina, who coaches the 8U team for the Havasu Dust Devils, agrees that learning the basics are the most important thing at that age.
“You want them to learn how to skate well and have fun at the same time,” Kostadina said. “Everyone learns at a different pace, but we’ve been practicing for about four weeks now and everyone seems to be doing a really good job. Things are going well.”
Dustin Jans, the 8U coach for the Knighthawks, has similar thoughts when it comes to teaching players the game at such a young age.
“We want them to learn the game, but the big thing we do is we make practice as fun as possible,” Jans said. “We try not to take things too seriously. The more fun they have, the more open they are to learning the game. We’re not as worried about winning. We just want them to have fun out there.”
Jans said one way he keeps practice fun is to run the players through a variety of drills.
“We do a series of drills that are a lot fun to be a part of and we have a fun skating game called Star Wars, where the players go back and forth as they develop their skating skills,” Jans explained.
Some players start at an even earlier age, though, and Kostadina said that does prove beneficial in the long run in terms of the development of the players.
“The younger they start, the better,” Kostadina said. “They are more receptive to learning the game at a younger age and they tend to enjoy it more. As they get older, it becomes more competitive and what they learn at an earlier age helps them down the road in the game.”
Robinson agrees and said what the players are taught in the 8U age group helps them thrive as they get older and become more skilled.
“Having successful 8U teams is a huge help because it prepares them for success as they move up,” Robinson said. “They have fun playing and they tell their friends about it and others get involved in the game.
“It’s a great thing to see.”
— Brian Lester