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.