This past May, about 90 hockey coaches and directors gathered in Columbus, Ohio for the annual North American Rink Conference & Expo (NARCE).
Operating under the umbrella of the U.S. Ice Rink Association and with the help of USA Hockey, the expo offers courses and certification for coaches, hockey directors, presidents and others, all aimed at doing what’s best developmentally for kids utilizing USA Hockey’s American Development Model. It’s an opportunity to learn skills and best practices for getting the most out of developing young players.
“We take a very direct approach to each age group of youth coaching,” explained USA Hockey’s Joe Bonnett, ADM manager for the Texas region. “We really peel back the layers of the onion to get deep inside the specifics of each age group.”
At NARCE, morning classes focus on the science, psychology, and needs for kids of each age group, from 8U through 18U. Afternoon sessions consist of demonstrations on running effective station-based practices and games. Attendees are also treated to presentations from USA Hockey Model Associations that have become successful using the NARCE-trained methodologies.
Seven coaches from the McKinney (Texas) North Stars attended the 2017 NARCE, along with their hockey director, Lucas Reid. The experience was an eye-opener, completely changing their way of thinking about running a successful program.
“The learning experience for me was far superior to anything I’ve been to,” said Ryan McLean, coach of the North Stars 8U AA team. “I consider myself somewhat of an old-school coach. The biggest thing I learned is ice utilization and getting the most out of players.”
One of the tools used to demonstrate the power of a station-based practice versus a traditional full-ice game or practice is USA Hockey’s activity tracker. Using a smartphone app or a sheet of paper, coaches can compare the two methods by picking a player and tracking his or her skating, puck touches, shots, passes and coaching feedback activites. Reid cites a hypothetical example.
“In a full-ice practice, little Johnny touches the puck six times, takes three shots, and makes four passes,” he said. “In a station-based practice, he touches the puck 44 times, takes 17 shots, and makes 89 passes. That’s outstanding.”
As a youth hockey coach himself, Reid understands the initial skepticism coaches often have when asked to change. He attended his first NARCE two years ago. It only took a day into the training to convince him he needed to take what he was learning back to McKinney.
“A lot of guys don’t want to recognize the game is different, and that means you have to train players differently,” he explained. “NARCE was a wake-up call to me as a coach. I’m embarrassed with some of the practices I used to run. Now that I know all the facts, and you hear it for a week from the top guys in the country, it’s a big wake-up call to tell you the game’s different.”
Once McLean saw the comparison, he was all in. “There’s no way that, if you have coaches who know what they’re doing, kids can’t be getting better at a much higher rate,” he said.
Another major component of NARCE is promoting a strong club culture. Rather than develop one kid at a time or the best team, clubs are encouraged to build an entire unit, from the kids to their families.
“If you’re offering developmental opportunities to everybody, if you’re taking care of the families, if kids are leaving the rink happy and sporty, that’s a good club culture,” Bonnett explained. “The clubs who are doing that are having a lot of success in terms of player retention and parent satisfaction.”
Bonnett is quick to point out clubs aren’t pressured to change their philosophy; they come voluntarily to ask for guidance. When the North Stars reached out, Bonnett was eager to help.
“I went and visited [Reid’s] program, looked at it, and they were doing the old-school stuff: single coaches, loop and shoot, one team at a time,” Bonnett recalled. “I think Lucas looked out on the horizon and said, ‘We want to be world-leading, we want to be different … and we really believe in what the ADM is promoting.’”
During his next visit, Bonnett held a seminar with all the McKinney coaches to discuss modern coaching techniques.
“The thing I liked about the McKinney coaches is they’re young, they’re old-school hockey guys, kind of rough around the edges, in a good way,” Bonnett said. “But they are extremely intelligent, willing to change, and have an open mind when it comes to development.”
The renovation of the North Stars’ program is still a work in progress. McLean is eager to learn more.
“I’ve already told Lucas and our board I want to go again next year,” he said. “I’ll be willing to pay my own way.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.