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Teaming Up To Enhance Youth Player Development

By Stephen Kerr, 10/18/19, 3:55PM MDT


Youth hockey minds from Sweden and Finland traveled to the U.S. to exchange ideas and methods

USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM), which was implemented more than 10 years ago, has been critical in promoting a love of the game and growing participation at all levels of youth hockey. Using key tenants taken from research and best practices in youth sports, the ADM has become the leading model for long-term athlete development.

And today, innovative development methods and ideas continue to be shared both here in the U.S. and in other countries.   

This past week, a group of representatives from the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIHA) and Finnish Ice Hockey Association (FIHA) travelled to the U.S. to meet with USA Hockey ADM regional managers, coaches, and teams in several states. The purpose of the week-long visit was to exchange information and ideas that each country’s governing body could use to enhance youth hockey development.

The representatives took part in meetings with parents, coaches and players, observing practices and games with teams at various youth levels. They were also treated to NHL and AHL games during their stay.

“We’re all leaders across the world when it comes to hockey,” explained Dan Jablonic, a USA Hockey ADM regional manager. “Our number one focus is player development and making sure we’re doing the best for our players. [The representatives] come over, they see what we’re doing each step along the way, and we share ideas and try to get better.”

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One concept the Swedish association has used for several years is involving players in the learning and decision-making process. Instead of telling a player what to do, coaches are taught to ask open-ended questions and encourage them to think for themselves. For example: I see you were in the corner, you got the puck and passed it in this direction; did you have other choices?

“The player has to think about what other options [they] have,” explained Anders Ottosson, a consultant with the SIHA. “The player is playing the game, not the coach. The coach’s eyes should be to find out what good things the player does, and from that, give positive feedback.”

While this way of thinking is being used to some degree in the ADM, Jablonic says the idea is to make that thought process a part of the entire model, since players often play for multiple coaches throughout their youth. The Swedish consultants introduced this concept at several clinics for coaches and players in Milwaukee and Chicago.

“It was phenomenal,” Jablonic said of the feedback from the coaches. “Every coach who walked out the door [after the session] was so appreciative. It’s really a cultural shift we need as coaches, to give the game back to the players.”

Ulf Hall, another SIHA consultant, appreciated the opportunity to take part in these discussions, and has learned a great deal from the experience.

“We’re humbled that USA Hockey invited us to do this,” Hall said. “They’ve taken great care of us. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet parents and coaches, and even got the chance to skate with a couple of youth teams.”

Members of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association visited the Washington Little Capitals program in Virginia, along with other youth associations in New York and New Jersey. Like the Swedish consultants, the Finnish representatives took part in two-way sessions to exchange ideas and give feedback.

The FIHA developers shared how their larger youth clubs support smaller ones through an umbrella system, and exchanged ideas with the ADM regional managers on ways to improve player retention.

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“Both federations are very consistent with the emphasis of individual development at the younger ages,” explained USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Scott Paluch. “That’s a common theme. They were really impressed with some of the younger coaches in the Little Caps organization, how eager they were to learn. The most beneficial piece (of these visits) is the conversations between coach and development manager. There was tremendous give-and-take.”

While he isn’t aware of specific visits being planned in the near future, Jablonic says the dialogue between Sweden, Finland and other countries is ongoing.

“[The goal] is finding the best practices,” he explained. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right things, and that there’s research behind it.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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