It’s been a great ride over the last three years as USA Hockey staff members, dedicated volunteers and various youth sport experts have crisscrossed the United States to discuss and help associations implement all that’s right about the American Development Model.
We’ve been meeting with parents, coaches and administrators to discuss the sports science that is such a key component of ADM as well as, quite frankly, the basic common sense attached to age appropriate principles.
Our emphasis with the ADM to this point has been on the 6- to 12-year-old hockey players. More specifically, our efforts have been focused at the 8 & Under age group and more recently with the 10 & Under players. Great strides have been made at the 8 & Under level with high activity, station based, FUN practices becoming the norm, and 8U playing their games on a size appropriate surface – cross ice.
At this point, if your league or association is not playing all or a high percentage of its 8 & Under games cross or half ice then you are in the minority.
As the head coach at the University of Minnesota, Don Lucia says, “It should be cross-ice games. Ten Mites playing on a full sheet is like adults playing on a football field. [It] wouldn’t be much fun skating a hundred yards”
If you are still hearing cases being made why a 6, 7 or 8 year old needs to play on the same size surface as fully grown men and women (full ice) … RUN and RUN FAST!
Science that tells us there are five physical capacities (speed, skill, suppleness, strength and stamina) that can be readily developed and accompanying “Windows of Trainability” when our bodies are most receptive to developing these physical capacities. If we don’t target our training to take advantage of these windows, we have missed key opportunities in developing our young athletes for hockey and other sports.
We’ve also been discussing a culture that has evolved into encouraging too many games in relation to practice opportunities, pushing early specialization in one sport, an overemphasis on travel hockey at a young age and too much importance placed on the scoreboard and teams’ won-loss records.
Not only do these trends actually hinder long-term athlete development, they are in no small part responsible in driving families out of the game due to increased cost and time commitment associated with an excessive amount of games and extensive travel.
So what can coaches, parents and players do in the near term to continue advancing and implementing ADM? I would encourage coaches, if they haven’t already done so, to run a five- or six-station practice with 40 or more Mites and Squirts and “embrace the chaos” that comes with so many kids skating, shooting and handling pucks at one time.
If they cross over into another station and bump into each other, all the better, as the kids have just learned the concept of “awareness” and “heads up hockey” without even knowing it. Our experience has been that kids absolutely love these high energy, constant activity practices.
Also, encourage your association and coaches to instill a philosophy of skating and skill development first and foremost for all the players in your program. Stress the importance of quality practices, equal ice time during games, and virtual disregard for the scoreboard (too many things detrimental to young players development creep into the equation when a team’s success is gauged primarily on their won-loss record).
Third, encourage kids to play at least two other sports or athletic activities in addition to hockey, and set up a structure and season length that allows them to do so. They will benefit in so many ways both on and off the ice from multi-sport participation.
Some of the successes that I’ve witnessed include associations increasing player ice touches (ice sessions) at no extra cost through shared practices, creative off-ice activities that target kids’ agility, balance and coordination and associations using their most talented coaches to affect a broader range of players, especially at the younger ages where learning the fundamental skills is so important.
Ultimately, taking advantage of nearly every minute of an ice session by keeping the kids feet moving, including a significant amount of “free play” in every practice, and making the experience fun will lead to more kids staying with the game for a longer period and better player development.
Joe Doyle is the regional manager for the American Development Model for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Districts.
photos by Tom Kimmell