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Relentless Pursuit of Excellence

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USA Hockey continues to expand their American Development Model (ADM) that is intended to provide youth players a better quality of experience in the game, higher skill levels, and a safer environment that will attract and retain more players. The model is tested in other parts of the world, makes lots of sense for kids, and it has the support from many disciplines in the medical field. Hockey associations and clubs around the country are quickly adopting the concepts and ideas although some are fearful of the changes that are required. The interesting part of all of this is that many of these ideas have been around for a long time and only now are they organized into a coherent long term development program for youth players and older athletes. The next step for the ADM is to begin to change the culture of our programs from one that is focused on short term measurements of numbers of games won to a long term view of a relentless pursuit of excellence.

A change in view to long term development requires a very different approach from the very lowest levels of the game all the way through high school and junior hockey in this country. It is about the relentless commitment on the part of coaches and program organizers to insure that all players are given the opportunity to learn the skills they need to successfully advance to the next age level and competitive level of the game. Players that reach their mid teens with skill deficiencies are doomed and will not ever have a chance to realize their potential. This occurs far to often.

Other hockey federations in the world, including Canada, view the player development period all the way to ages 19 or 20. In the NHL the ages for optimal performance is 26-36 according to researchers. There are some players who stand out at earlier ages but not many. Only after the development period is complete are players ready to move into the highly competitive environment where they can continue to grow as players. Sadly, in the US nearly 95 percent of our players have already left the game by age 16 and we have very few programs for those who want to continue to train and develop as players.

Although broad reaching organizations like USA hockey and Minnesota Hockey are difficult to change. Change occurs one coach and one team at a time. The coaches of each youth, high school, and junior team are the true leaders and developers of hockey players as they move through the system. It is at this point where we succeed or fail as developers of hockey players.

Coaching is the fulcrum of success or failure in every team and program. There are four essential criteria for successful coaching and development of players.

  1. A coach needs to be relentless in improving as a coach each year
  2. Each team needs an assessment and development plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the players on the team
  3. Insuring that every player on the team acquires the necessary individual and tactical skills required to play at the next level
  4. Be accountable for achieving results in the three points above.

Does this mean winning lots of games and maybe going to the state tournaments? No. It means focusing on developing all of the players on the team with an understanding that each season is just one chapter in the long career of each player. Maybe a coach gets 2 or 3 seasons with some players and that is even better if the coach is really focused on development. Otherwise the players move on and hopefully to coach who is also development oriented rather than just focused on winning games in youth hockey.

Making a shift like this is not easy in our current culture of "win, win, win". It is also not easy for coaches because a shift of this nature makes the job more difficult. It does require coaches to be better prepared and more knowledgeable about the game and how to teach it. Attending the required Coach Education Programs (CEP) is just beginning for coaches as they prepare for each season. Other seminars, books, and DVDs will enhance a coach’s skills. Spending time with more experienced and like minded coaches is time well spent. Adopting a view point of learning as a coach is critical. A relentless pursuit of excellence for a coach will translate to the same for their team and players.

In Minnesota local associations are responsible for their own programs and development of coaches and players. Every association should have an on going coach development, mentoring and assessment program in place that focus on technical competency and measurable outcomes. There are hurdles to this idea but it does work and the players get better because the coaching is better and focused on the right areas. Youth hockey in Minnesota is a $150 million dollar industry that hinges on coaching. Poor or inadequate coaching means time and money are wasted and players leave the game at an early age well before they have reached their potential. Good coaching should be the relentless pursuit of every association.

Minnesota Hockey offers a coach development program for local associations. It is a combination of on and off ice sessions and can be expanded on request. A team of experienced coaches will come to a local association and work with youth coaches to help them in their relentless pursuit of excellence. Interested associations can contact Minnesota Hockey for more information. halt@minnesotahockey.org

The off season is the best time for coaches and associations to begin their own relentless pursuit of excellence.

See you around the rink…

Hal Tearse

Coach in Chief, Minnesota Hockey