COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brian Coletta admits he’s a bit of a “hands on” learner, so the North American Rink Conference and Expo’s Hockey Director Certification Program turned out to be the perfect fit for the assistant coach for the Point Mallard Ducks junior hockey team in Decatur, Ala.
On the first day of the program, held May 19-22 in Columbus, Ohio, hockey directors and coaches strapped on their skates and experienced first-hand the drills and training exercises associated with USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“Different people learn in different ways,” said Coletta, who was an assistant coach for Fitchburg State and Finlandia University before heading to Alabama. “I’m a person who looks to get his hands in there.
“It was fun to see up close the implantation of the things they’ve been talking about. I wouldn’t say it was physically demanding, but we got a good sweat going out there.”
The Hockey Director Certification Program course took participants to the Ohio Health Ice Haus. Ty Hennes, an ADM manager for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific regions, had coaches participate in the drills on the first day of classes so they could teach groups of 8-and-under, 10U, 12U, 14U and 16U players in the remaining three days of the conference.
Hennes called the drills “small area games with concepts.” One station of the drills might focus on games designed to teach players to clear pucks while another would have players do games designed to improve their forechecking abilities.
“This was the first time some of the instructors had been a part of a station-based practice,” Hennes said. “[Some of them had] a big a-ha moment. Coaches saw players weren’t just standing around; everyone was engaged in the drills.”
Kevin McLaughlin, the Senior Director of Hockey Development for USA Hockey, said the learning by doing approach is crucial when training coaches.
“You can show them [drills] on a piece of paper or on a video, but when you actually get on the ice and put them through the exercises themselves, they have a new appreciation of the activity level,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes [adults] tend to forget what it is like to be a little kid. [Coaches and hockey directors] need to see how important it is for the kids to have fun during practices.”
Brian Copeland, hockey director of the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA), agreed.
“They kind of transported themselves back to the time when they were kids,” he said. “There were smiles over the place. Coaches were out there having fun. That’s how you get kids to stay in hockey: Make sure they’re having fun.”
If the numbers are any indication, Copeland’s players are having fun. Since being named as a USA Hockey “model program,” the CSAHA has grown by 21 percent over the past two years and the association’s 8U program has repeatedly sold out.
“We don’t do any marketing. The families in our 8-and-Under group are spreading the word,” Copeland said.
The drills did more than make the game more fun for Copeland’s teams. The drills also made them more competitive. Copeland points to the success of his Bantam B team. During the 2011-12 season, the Colorado Springs association only had one player ranked in the top 24 and only four players in the top 75 in scoring in their 15-team league. Last season, the team had the league’s highest scorer and seven players ranked in the top 10 in the league’s scoring.
Sometimes the new drills were met with resistance from parents and coaches who favored full ice scrimmages.
“When we first started out, there was some aversion to it. People thought we needed to play full ice because that is what adult hockey looks like,” Copeland said. “That’s the problem. You’re laying down adult constrictions on kids, thinking that’s what is good for youth hockey. That is simply not true.”
Coletta, on the contrary, was won over immediately. He said the drills get more players actively involved than full-ice scrimmages.
“When I ran youth programs in Massachusetts, there was always this push back from the kids who wanted to go full ice,” Coletta said. “I always hated full-ice practices. There was too much standing around and only the best player has the puck on his stick the whole time.”
Bob Mancini, a regional manager for the ADM in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, believes the Hockey Director Certification program did more than just teach coaches new drills.
“We need to people to understand the difference between coaching 8-years-olds and 10-year-olds,” said Mancini, a former development coach with the Edmonton Oilers. “We want [course participants] to not just become better coaches and hockey directors but empowered them to make everyone in the hockey association better.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
If you’ve ever called USA Hockey with officiating registration questions, you’ve likely heard the voice of Helen Fenlon. As the manager of officiating administration, Fenlon is the brains behind registration operations. She started working with USA Hockey in 1991 and joined the officiating department in 1993.
Fenlon took a break from readying eager officials for the upcoming season to tell us more about herself and the registration process.
USA Hockey: How did you first get involved with USA Hockey? Did you lace up the skates or make the call on the ice a time or two?
Helen Fenlon: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t a ref or player. I was a mom and I had a child that played. I volunteered at the local association for a number of years and volunteered at USA Hockey. Before I knew it I was employed by them and have been doing this job ever since. It’s nice because I’ve seen the volunteer side and know how the local and state boards work because I did all of that when my kids were growing up.
USA Hockey: What’s a typical day like for you?
Helen Fenlon: I work on the officiating registration. When everyone registers (to be an official) they are mailed out books to do the test and emailed information about doing the test online and ways to sign up for seminars online as well. Then I score the test when they come in for the closed-book test and basically answer all the questions that pertain to the ice hockey refs. I manage approximately 24,000 registrations when from August 1 through March. Once the registration period is over, we start getting ready for next year.
USA Hockey: How has the registration process changed in your 21-year tenure?
Helen Fenlon: When we first started, we used to mail them out the application, have them mail it back with a check and then we would process it. Once that was done, we would mail them a test and they would mail us back their answer sheet when they were done. It was all done by hand back then. Now, for registration, they just go online and pay with a credit card and the test is also done online. It’s much easier for everyone involved.
In the past, we also would just do an open-book test, but it’s evolved into different levels of doing an open-book and closed-book test, and some do a skating exam, too. Also going into place this year, everyone will do an online seminar.
USA Hockey: Officials must be happy to have the process accelerated thanks to online capabilities.
Helen Fenlon: It’s great for people to access the test faster and be able to turn materials around faster so they can start working. To some of these people, it’s a job. Others do it because they want to help kids. People do it for all kinds of different reasons. For me, it’s impressive to see people who stick with (officiating) for so long.
USA Hockey: How have the resources available to officials changed through the years?
Helen Fenlon: Right now, with the new rules and programs in place, the amount of resources available for officials education is improving, but we’re always looking for more ways to help our officials be successful.
USA Hockey: What’s one thing you want to remind everyone about?
Helen Fenlon: It’s always been my goal for everybody across the country, whether you’re in Colorado Springs, New York, California or anywhere in between, to follow the same rules as far as being able to become an official and complete the registration. That’s the fair way, and it’s the best way to ensure the best quality of officiating throughout the country.