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Officiating Development: From Mites to Minor Pros and Beyond

By USA Hockey, 08/26/14, 3:00PM MDT

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The hockey landscape has changed dramatically over the years, as our sport continues to grow, often in non-traditional hockey areas. There are more players than ever before and more opportunities for players, coaches and officials at all levels of the game. American hockey is prospering and it’s likely that this growth and development will continue.

The implementation of USA Hockey’s American Development Model has played a huge role in changing the culture of how the game is presented at the grassroots levels, and also improving the competition environment for participants. This initiative focuses not only on participation in the game, but also on developing the skills that allow players to create their own life-long passion for the sport of hockey.

Within the ADM framework, every player is provided an opportunity to reach their full playing potential, thanks to increased puck touches and skill development. At the same time, the ADM provides a more engaging environment for players and their families, encouraging them to fall in love with the game and stick with it.

As a result of the ADM’s success, player retention has improved and USA Hockey will have more kids playing at the older levels of youth hockey, with more skills, in the years to come. This fact places an additional burden on the officiating program to provide capable and qualified officials to work these games – a challenge that really emphasizes the need to follow the same philosophy on the development front. Welcoming new members into officiating, helping them develop their skills and creating an environment that allows them to develop their own life-long passion for officiating is a must to keep up with the changing landscape of the game.

Each registered official plays a role in creating this environment, as every level of play provides opportunities to develop officials. At the mite level, hockey on an age-appropriate playing surface is the perfect place for an inexperienced official to get on the ice and hone basic game-flow and positioning skills in a low-intensity environment. Officials working at the younger age classifications, in many cases, receive their first exposure to the two-official system and/or calling offside, icings and other infractions. This level may also provide chances to hone their skills as a linesman in the three-official system. In these instances, less experienced officials are likely mentored by more experienced officials.

Officials then move up the ladder – both from a level-of-play standpoint and with the amount of responsibility assigned to them. Evaluation then comes into play, and this group of evaluators can become mentors for the newer officials, too. 

The third stage of development will sometimes serve as a fork in the road. By now, the official is hooked on officiating and has, hopefully, developed a passion for being on the ice in this role. Many are happy to simply be a part of the game and continue working the higher levels of youth hockey in their own geographic area. Others may become evaluators, instructors, assignors and leaders within their local officiating community. This group is a critical part of our program, as they most likely have the greatest influence in their local officiating environment.

Still others develop a passion to pursue the highest levels of officiating. They consider making officiating their career choice. For these aspiring officials, USA Hockey has created our Junior Officiating Development Program. This program provides structure, opportunity and resources for officials to be successful at the highest levels of USA Hockey and hopefully advance onto the professional ranks or college hockey. Regardless of whether they reach those heights, we hope they have developed a connection with the USA Hockey Officiating Program that they continue nurturing throughout their career.

USA Hockey has developed and distributed the resources for success at all levels of development and will continue supporting our grassroots programs. However, much of our success is directly dependent on our volunteers at the local level, and specifically, those who have the most direct influence on the officials and the environment in which they work. This is most likely their assignor, who works in cooperation with the local youth hockey association to recruit, educate and develop grassroots officials. Supporting these efforts has long been a primary focus of USA Hockey’s Officiating Program, and that will most certainly continue as we embrace the future of hockey.

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