David Taylor watched his 7-year-old daughter walk off the ice last year, her head hanging and tears flowing. She was crushed and discouraged following a disappointing performance by her team in the Coyote Classic, the Taos Hockey Association’s annual tournament.
Taylor’s daughter was an accomplished skater, having figure skated for four years with the organization’s youth teams. But in his words, “she was almost done with the game at 7 years old.” Taylor knew he needed to find a way to help his daughter enjoy the game again.
A board member for the association in Taos, New Mexico, Taylor knew there had to be something better available for his daughter and all the other players in the Taos Hockey Association. He searched online when he came across USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
In their first year with the ADM, fun had returned for Taylor, his daughter, and for the association as a whole.
“She said, ‘Mom, I love this game and I know I can play this game forever,’” Taylor said of a recent conversation between his daughter and wife. “This is the same kid that, less than a year before, had asked us if she had to play anymore.”
Last spring, Taylor discovered the ADM and the steps to becoming a USA Hockey Model Association. He approached the board with the idea of changing their whole approach. Taylor’s ideas were accepted and the association began implementing changes. With Taylor, now appointed as the association’s director of hockey, the group is working towards Model Association status.
As part of the transition, Taylor reached out to Joe Bonnett, USA Hockey’s ADM regional manager and a longtime youth and NCAA Division I coach. Bonnett visited Taos and conducted a two-day clinic to demonstrate the ADM and work with the association’s coaches.
“I look forward to practice now in a way I never did before,” said Brian Greer, the association’s high school coach. “It’s the teaching aspects of it that I like the best, because you could see individually, in a nutshell, exactly what each kid needs, exactly where they are with that skill. By being coached that close to what they need, there was marked improvement almost immediately.”
Greer has been coaching in the area for 25 years. He had seen the association grow from its beginnings on a pond to the rink installed 20 years ago. The changes were as sweeping for him as anyone.
“I probably was as far away from it as anybody could be,” Greer said. “There were a lot of years where I was the only coach on the ice, so I developed patterns and habits old school. Embracing the ADM, I found a lot of things that were positive.
“I realized, ‘Wow, this truly is a monster help to a coach.’”
With Bonnett’s help, the Taos Hockey Association altered its practice approach, going with the ADM’s station-based skills training. One station could be a small-area game while another will be committed to working on stick handling; another could be devoted to skating.
The association, which numbers about 130 total players from 6U to 18U, groups 6U kids with 8U for one practice and follows with each level up to the high-school age players.
Under the previous practice arrangements, the 8U players would get three-quarters of the rink, while the 6U would practice on the small piece of leftover ice. Now, the two age groups practice together within the stations and expectations within the station are simply adjusted for each player. The association will also have the older age groups join the younger for station practices.
“We started taking the labels off of these different groups,” Taylor said.
The kids responded.
“This year, we haven’t had a practice yet where the kids didn’t come off the ice with a smile on their faces,” Taylor said. “We even had three or four practices in a row. Our mites and minis practice right before the bantam group. Our kids did not want to get off the ice. That’s a testimony right there as to what this can do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.