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Youth Sports Is About Far More than Wins and Losses

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I recently received an e-mail from a hockey parent in Vermont that was so powerful, I wanted to share it:  

Hi Hal

My name is Mike Hickey and I just came across your article written for the May 2010 issue of the USA Hockey Inside the Game newsletter entitled "Behind the Bench". First I want to commend you on your courage, in these days of ADM and Age specific Modules, and the NHL investing in USA Hockey and the over emphasis on promoting skill development it is refreshing to read your article. I often question USA Hockey's motives; are we as youth coaches focusing on the goal of developing National Teams and ignoring the fun of the game. Are we overlooking the development of the weaker players just to win games in search of a national title.

Here in rural Vermont we don't have large pools of players, so the national team's rosters don't have many kids from Vermont, and if they do it is an oddity. In our local association two years ago I (as the President of the association) requested that our coaches conform to the ADM model of practices. I had attended an ADM presentation and was convinced: skills, skills, skills.

That year I was an assistant coach on our Squirt A team and our head coach took the ADM and followed it to the letter of the law. He probably did so because he didn't need to plan any practices by following the ADM, the work was done for him. He just printed them off the USA Hockey website and was finished with the plan for the week. We never changed practices, and we followed the ADM plans as provided by USA Hockey. As we progressed through that first season I recognized very early on that our players had more talent; they could outskate and stick handle better than most teams we faced, although we had zero concept of team.

We were a team of talented 9 and 10 year old's that chased the puck like 4 year old's in a Mighty Mites game. We had some success, but only due to some weaker teams that we faced and our ability to out skate most kids to the outside and then a hard effort to the net would produce goals, and we had some good goaltending. No team system passing, no creating open space, no cycling or puck movement in the zone. These were all off limits from our head coach who drank the ADM Koolaid.

Forechecking, Backchecking, Penalty Kills, Power Plays, any team concepts the head coach refused to talk about, because the ADM and the powers that be at USA Hockey claimed to have taken a RI bantam team and just did ADM practices and with 10 kids and they won a National Title.

Is this what it's all about? Are we focused only on getting players to the biggest stages in hockey?

When did we lose the game in all of this? Where did teaching the game to kids that want to play for fun go? I love this game and have been playing it since I was five, I have great memories of me and my dad going to 5 a.m. hockey practices back on the South Shore of  Boston, where I grew up and found my love of this game. I have great memories of the cold foggy rinks of my childhood, of coaches with cigarettes hanging from the corners of their mouths, no helmets and barely being able to stand on their skates, yelling instructions a we skated the full length of the ice. I tell our parents and our volunteers (coaches included) that youth hockey is not about wins and losses, it's not about playing time, it's not about state championships and national championships.

It's about the time spent with your child, it's about building memories that live on for a lifetime.

My dad, who was a youth hockey coach while I was growing up as well as my Little League baseball coach, turned 70 about a year ago and was soon after diagnosed with prostate cancer. He called to tell me about the diagnoses and after a few tears of over flowing emotion he talked about the great memories he had as a youth hockey coach. Traveling with me, sometimes just he and I, driving in the 72' VW Bug all over Massachusetts (at all hours, normally early mornings) and beyond to hockey games. His fondest of memories were the time spent together, he told me a story about driving to the Hingham Pilgrim Arena one early morning and the fog on the road was so thick he couldn't see the end of the trunk (VW Bug trunks were in the front, as you might recall). He told me I was so scared I jump in the back seat without warning, and he laugh under his breath the rest of the ride without letting me know he was laughing. He never talked about my skill levels or goals scored or about my playing time and games that we won or lost. He talked about spending time together and sharing a game that we love, together.

I'll call my dad sometimes while traveling to a games with my own sons. So that he can share in our time together and I know he loves it if only on the phone.

As parents and coaches of the new youth hockey player, who are subjected to ADM practices, off-ice training sessions, age appropriate modules with a 20 minutes segment on nutrition for 9 year old's, it's my hope that we haven't lost the game that I love. After our first year of ADM practices I now encouraged all coaches to do one practice a week ADM Style and their second practice of the week team focus with team drills.

Who knows how we will do, i don;t know if anyone will ever completely figure it out, but what is most important to me is that our kids have fun.

Sorry to take up so much of your time today and maybe you stopped reading after the third paragraph but one simple thought remains and in an effort to find the love of the game again I am going to present first to Vermont, and then to USA Hockey that every youth hockey team, across America, should be required to play in at least one players vs. parents game every year. USA Hockey should encourage it, and it should promote it as a one day event, we have lost the love of the game in this country and maybe this will help us to find it again. 

I am certain I cannot add anything to this except, Amen!