USA Hockey, Lightning team up to improve youth hockey with a new way of thinking
/ Tampa Bay Lightning
When it comes to accelerating the development of youth hockey players, USA Hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning are accomplishing more by using less.
Ice, that is.
With overwhelming support from both parents and local coaches, the Lightning have adopted the practice of operating under the framework of USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM), which suggests that instruction for youth hockey players ages eight years old and younger should focus on long-term skill development and emphasize a fun playing setting more so than game competition.
By utilizing all three zones of the ice and then cutting each in half to create six distinct stations, the configuration aims to get kids more involved through the use of repetition and specialized practice drills that place heavy emphasis on touching the puck. The practice allows them to not only master specific skills sets faster and more efficiently, but also to keep them interested in playing hockey for many years in the future.
The ADM also encourages the kids to play multiple sports to aid in their overall athletic and muscle development.
“The more that kids just play hockey and the more they learn to interact with each other, the more they’ll love it,” Lightning Director of Youth Hockey Brian Bradley said. “It’s really that simple. When playing on a full sheet of ice, you got some guys down at one end hogging the puck and some guys sitting over on the bench, which really is not beneficial. But the ADM encourages us to preach involvement and create a positive and safe environment for kids of all ages to learn and play.”
The benefits that result from applying the ADM are two-fold. For the participants, the smaller spaces make for more ice time and more touches of the puck that will undoubtedly train them in ways that are appropriate for their age group. Parents, on the other hand, will certainly save money since the in-season cost for player participation is reduced as a result of on-ice fees being divided more ways.
And although still in its early stages, the ADM has been well received across both demographics.
“They love it,” said ADM Regional Manager Scott Paluch, who oversees the Mid-America and Southeast Districts. “The kids are moving a lot, getting a lot of ice time with the puck and the smiles on their faces let us know they’re having fun. When the parents then see them come off sweaty and smiling, that’s a good thing.”
The inception of the ADM stemmed from several research studies performed by USA Hockey, which closely examined statistics related to player development, most notably the number of opportunities each player has to improve when comparing a practice setting with a game setting. Since game settings often revolve around competition, and are played on a full sheet of ice which reduces the number of chances for lesser-skilled players to get involved in the action, it was determined that the practice-like atmosphere proved to be more beneficial in helping young kids learn the fundamentals of the game.
“We learned that too many kids were getting left behind in their development,” said Roger Grillo, who manages the ADM for Massachusetts and the New England District. “I think the fallback really had a lot to do with our culture getting a hold of this win-at-all-costs mentality where everything became too structured simply to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore. So the ADM is reverting back to making youth hockey about the kids. It’s common sense. In order to be good at something, you have to do it, you have to have repetition, you have to have proper practice. Kids, to no fault of their own, simply just were not getting that.”
In order to guide coaches about how to properly implement the ADM at clinics across the country, USA Hockey developed four main principles to serve as a creed for instructors. Among the main pillars were keeping the players skating at all times within their stations in order to maintain a level of interest, getting the kids involved quickly in drills and instructing on an individual basis as often as possible, being positive and upbeat in communication with the players, and lastly, to implement cross-ice scrimmages within each station to foster individual hockey sense and develop strong hockey instincts.
It is with this new-found way of teaching that Grillo hopes the ADM can catch on and sustain long-term success.
“Once we get the entire country to realize that cross-ice hockey is critical, and that there is an important progression that goes along with how these kids develop, I think that’s when we’ll sit back and really marvel at what we’ve accomplished,” Grillo added. “There’s a misconception that there’s this big race to the finish line. Well, the race isn’t to be the best 12-year-old. The race is to still be in hockey when you’re 15 or 16 and stay in the game for life, and that starts by training the proper way at a young age.”