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ADM trains athletes first, hockey players second

by Erica Walsh
Since the first NHL All-Star Game was held at Toronto's Maple Leafs Garden on Oct. 13, 1947, the format has changed a handful of times. In the time leading up to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover in Raleigh, N.C., which will be the 58th since the inaugural, the game has pitted the Stanley Cup champions against a team of all-stars and seen North America oppose the rest of the world. In the years leading up to this one, the game was a competition between the best players from the Eastern and Western conferences.

These changes are among the many that have infused the sport of hockey. But perhaps the most important, the most influential and the most exciting advancement is just beginning to take hold: the NHL's partnership with USA Hockey, particularly the increased support and widespread implementation of the American Development Model (ADM), a new philosophy in age-appropriate athlete development that overturns the traditional model of training for one emphasizing early generalization and late-seeded specialization. In other words, ADM creates athletes first, hockey players second.

"As a coach and parent with two kids that play youth hockey, I believe it's important to emphasize age-appropriate skills development to become not only better hockey players, but better athletes. The ADM is a step in the right direction towards this goal." -- Peter Laviolette

Through an official partnership with the NHL, USA Hockey can now offer nationwide ADM clinics teaching the program's fundamentals to local coaches, players and parents. Practice is where young athletes develop the most (studies have proven that the average player touches the puck just over 20 seconds during the course of a game). So the clinics stress long-term athlete development through skill acquisition: skating, passing, shooting and handling, disguised as games, like on-ice obstacle courses and soccer games, that keep kids interested, engaged and, above all, having fun.

"We view our relationship with USA Hockey to be extremely important -- not only to the future of hockey in this country, but also to the vibrancy of the NHL's business long-term," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "The more we can do to assist USA Hockey's efforts in developing young hockey players, the more we are broadening and deepening both our future NHL talent base and our current and future fan base."

As part of this year's NHL All-Star Game weekend, an ADM clinic will be held at the Raleigh RecZone on Saturday, Jan. 29.

"The clinic will showcase an optimal practice for players aged 8 and under (mites) utilizing stations and cross-ice games," said Ken Martel, Director of the ADM. "Our focus this season is on the implementation of full cross-ice hockey for mites across the country, so staging this clinic as part of the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend is a terrific vehicle to help continue to educate the hockey community on the values of the ADM."

It is also Martel's hope that when the ADM is implemented in full, more kids will play the game because they'll be in an environment that is fun and best suited to help them reach their full potential. That is why NHL players, coaches and strategists across the country are participating in ADM clinics. Former player and current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato visited an ADM clinic during the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic weekend and members of the Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, and Atlanta Thrashers have all trained their local youth hockey programs, letting young players see professional athletes emphasize performance over result, training over competition and athleticism over scoring.

"As a coach and parent with two kids that play youth hockey, I believe it's important to emphasize age-appropriate skills development to become not only better hockey players, but better athletes," said Peter Laviolette, coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the All-Star coaches. "The ADM is a step in the right direction towards this goal."

"The NHL's partnership with USA Hockey is one of vital importance," said Brian Burke, President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and advocate for the ADM model. "The League's support will accelerate the already-impressive job that USA Hockey has done developing players for college and professional hockey."

The clinics also inspire coaches and parents to experience youth hockey beyond the records and statistics, as they become a national movement with the power to transform American hockey.

It's a movement that Mike Sullivan, assistant coach of the New York Rangers and a youth hockey parent, characterizes as "a comprehensive model to improve children's overall athleticism, resulting from the hard work of individuals specializing in childhood development, exercise, and physiology." The ADM utilizes long-term athlete development, an idea developed by internationally recognized coaching educator Istvan Balyi that tracks development and athletic ability, emphasizing the need to coach players according to their physical and psychological growth.

Doing so exposes a young player's potential by integrating training, competition and recovery programming in relation to biological development. What the players experience are more exciting, challenging and unique practice sessions. 

And when they're off the ice, young hockey players should be exposed to other sports like baseball, golf and soccer instead of committing to year-long hockey programs that can limit their athletic development. Keep skaters active and injury-free, keep them engaged, and you'll keep them skating for years to come.

That is how the ADM can influence American hockey and why the NHL has taken stock in its philosophies.

"USA Hockey and the NHL have many of the same objectives and so a strong relationship is mutually beneficial," said Dave Ogrean, Executive Director of USA Hockey. "Our goal is to get more kids playing the game, particularly at the entry level, and then provide an environment through the American Development Model that is fun and helps kids reach their full potential. Ultimately, that results in more elite-level American players and also more fans of the game, both which are important to the NHL."

Peter Karmanos, Owner and CEO of the Carolina Hurricanes, hosts of the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend, has watched youth hockey grow in North Carolina since the early 1970s.

"Within the last year, athletes from our youth programs have earned scholarships to collegiate hockey powers including the North Dakota men's program and Boston College's women's program," Karmanos said. "We look forward to the day when the first player from the (Carolina Youth Hockey) is drafted into the NHL, and believe that day may come sooner than later. The ADM program will allow even more kids from the area to get involved in hockey."

Karmanos is right. The program's widespread availability, which is looking to grow in the 2011-2012 season with the introduction of age-specific online coaching modules, means the further eradication of the geographic boundaries that once defined the sport of hockey.

Further, ADM could be the change that allows American hockey to catch up to other countries, growing its ranks of players and increasing the number of high-level players from around the country, athletes with increased stamina, strength, speed, skill, and suppleness -- all trained in USA Hockey's American Development Model.

"In the ADM, USA Hockey has developed and is in the process of implementing a proven system for developing young athletes," Daly said. "The goal of moving toward a systematic and unified method of player development should have the effect of increasing player participation, creating a positive environment for kids to learn and play hockey, and facilitating skill development and creativity among young players. It's an exciting development for hockey in this country."
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