Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a group of coaches introduced a new philosophy meant to improve player development for the kids in the Rochester (Minnesota) Youth Hockey Association.
So when USA Hockey promoted a similar philosophy decades later in the American Development Model, the RYHA jumped on board.
“The focus is on skill development through fundamentals and small-area games,” said RYHA Traveling Unit Director Scott Schneider. “This has been the focus of RYHA for decades, and we’re glad to see the ADM focus has gone nationwide.”
The long-term focus on age-appropriate skill development has helped the RYHA grow into an association that fields a lineup of six bantam teams, seven peewee teams, 11 squirt teams, termites (4- to 6-year-olds who’ve had two years of skating experience) and super-mites (7- and 8-year-olds plus kids with two to three years of termite experience). This season, RYHA has 80 termites and an impressive 195 super-mites.
“What we’re trying to accomplish with [termites and super-mites] is skill development and helping them skate better,” Schneider said. “They play cross-ice and half-ice games.
“We do a lot of fun things with termites and work on their edges. With super-mites it’s all skills, stations, fundamentals and small-area games.
“Then, we take the top 14 or 15 mites and move them into squirts because they’re ready,” added Schneider. “When we do small-area games, every kid has a chance to have the puck on his stick, which encourages them to come back.”
The RYHA has also embraced other aspects of the ADM, such as the optimal practice-to-game ratios for each age group and the emphasis on skill development over scoreboard outcomes for younger players.
“We’re very fortunate in Rochester in that we have six ice arenas,” Schneider said. “I have the bantam AA team this year. We play on weekends and practice four times a week …. We try to have a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio for all age groups. Many weeks they’ll have five practices and zero games.”
Even when the youngest RYHA teams do play games, the emphasis is clearly on having fun.
“Mites and termites don’t have records or scoreboards,” Schneider said. “Squirts don’t have playoffs, and we don’t post records. As for peewees and bantams, if you make them better skaters or better passers, winning will be a product of it.
“All of our systems will be on a chalk board. Our practices are all about skating, fundamental skills, learning to play fast and always something that makes them compete.”
The RYHA’s dual focus on skill development and fun has helped the association thrive, but the RYHA takes further steps to ensure it continues to attract new players while retaining the one already playing.
In fact, earlier this year, the RYHA was the nation’s top association for registering new participants through USA Hockey’s CCM Incentive Award Program. So in addition to the 107 new players the RYHA signed up, the association also received 40 sets of helmets and gloves from CCM.
“This was a greater number than we expected, which was good,” Schneider said.
RYHA also did something it never had done before: It brought on board Pilar Gibson, who serves as a retention specialist. She also arranges the RYHA’s Try Hockey for Free days and other events
Another initiative that underscores the success of RYHA is that this year it used excess money raised to buy floor hockey sets, which the association donated to local elementary schools for their physical education programs.
In Rochester, “we’re going over and above,” Schneider said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.