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Off-Ice: The New Pre- and Post-Performance Imperative

By Mike Doyle, 09/07/16, 11:15AM MDT

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USA Hockey’s American Development Model practice plans are meant to maximize the amount of skill development time during on-ice sessions. However, a child’s athletic development shouldn’t be limited to the time spent on the ice.

For many coaches and parents, the idea of developing young hockey players begins and ends with on-ice practice. Mark Tabrum, director of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program, believes that in order to make the best players, we must first make the best athletes. This includes age-specific, off-ice training. For many, this might represent an overhaul in traditional hockey training.

“In our culture, parents drop their child off 30 minutes before practice (at most),” Tabrum said. “They have their one-hour practice, and within 10, 15 minutes, kids are gone and out the door.”

Redefining “Hockey Practice”

At minimum, a dynamic warmup before hitting the ice and cool-down stretch after can be implemented at any age. In order to truly develop the best possible players, Tabrum thinks coaches, parents and players have to change their outlook towards the meaning of “hockey practice.” In order to get the best out of young athletes, he suggests making age-appropriate, off-ice training a part of a team’s practice plan – before hitting the ice.

“They’re not getting that physical literacy when they’re younger,” Tabrum said.

Physical literacy is the development of fundamental movement and sport skills. With budgets tightening in schools, funds that were once dedicated to physical education programs are getting cut. Formerly, kids would get fundamental sports development at school. Without the opportunity for children to build fundamental physical skills, they’re less likely to hit their full athletic potential later in life.

Tabrum saw the effects firsthand.

“At the beginning of the year, teams will get together at somebody’s house and have a barbecue so parents and kids get to know one another,” Tabrum said. “Because the weather is nice, [kids will] throw a football or a Frisbee – they’re doing these active things. Then you watch them and you realize they can’t throw or catch a ball. They haven’t developed those muscle groups or developed those skills.

“That’s where I noticed it big time.”

Specialization Inhibits Athleticism

A big culprit to the lag in overall athleticism is sports specialization – especially in hockey. Narrowing the scope at a young age hinders athleticism rather than building it.

“We need to develop the overall athlete,” Tabrum said. “How many three- or four-sport athletes [in high school] do you see? You don’t. It’s rare that you get a two-sport athlete because we’re specializing at an earlier age. Those kids aren’t developing the rest of their bodies and other muscle groups. Are they really becoming the best athletes they can be? The answer is no.”

Raising Athletes

Whether hockey coaches are prepared for it not, developing an overall athlete may fall on their shoulders. The mindset of training athletes, not just hockey players, might be outside of their comfort zone. But just like a coach utilizes over-speed training for players, they too need to embrace pushing themselves. For Tabrum, molding hockey players becomes secondary to raising athletes.

To enact real change is not easy. It is a labor of love. But in the end, putting our children in the best possible position to succeed is worth it.

“We’re in such a hurry to get to the wrong finish line; we’re worried about that 8- or 10-and-Under championship,” Tabrum said. “Does that really matter? Where will the player be when they’re 18 or 20? Let’s re-structure our development structure to focus on that finish line instead, because that’s when it really counts.” 

USA Hockey has an array of age-specific, off-ice training tools online and on its award-winning Mobile Coach App. It’s never been easier to pass on and gain knowledge. However, it is up to people at local associations to implement the mindset shift.

“It’s at the grassroots level that those changes need to be made,” Tabrum said. “If we’re changing the way we do business and we can change that one aspect – adding off-ice training – I think we’ll see noticeable gains in the very near future.”

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Changes to the Registration Process for the 2022-23 Season

By USA Hockey 07/15/2022, 1:00pm MDT

Q-and-A with USA Hockey’s Director of Officiating Education Program Matt Leaf

The Referee Section of USA Hockey recently met during Annual Congress and discussed a variety of issues that will have an impact in the success of the officiating program. Many of those issues relate back to the successful completion of the registration requirements and the retention of officials.

Streamlining the registration process and maximizing the efficiency of our educational platforms are always a priority and the following Q-and-A will highlight those changes that every official should be aware of heading into the new season.

USA Hockey: What is the biggest change made to the registration requirements for this season?

Matt Leaf: With more and more seminars transitioning to a virtual format, the Referees-in-Chief (RIC) have determined that there really is no need for the closed book exams. So, level 2, 3 and 4 officials this season will no longer be required to submit a closed book (or modified online closed book exam) upon completion of the seminar requirement. Instead, the open book exams have been expanded to 75 questions for level 2 and 100 questions each for level 3 and level 4.

The RICs acknowledged that the purpose of the exams has always been as a means to encourage rule knowledge, so more effort was made to put together open book exam questions that will encourage the officials to open the Rules/Casebook in an effort to not only learn the rule, but more importantly, understand the spirit and intent of the rule.

USAH: Are there any other changes to the exam process

ML: The only other change to the exams deal with those who do not pass the original exam. Level 2, 3 and 4 officials will now be able to complete their retake exam 24 hours after failing their original exam. Level 1 officials will still need to wait seven days as we want them to slow down and take some time reviewing the rules so they can gain a better understanding and improve their chances for success on the ice.

USAH: What changes, if any, have been made to the seminars? Are all officials still required to attend a seminar each season?

ML: Yes, except for Tenured Officials, all officials are required to attend a seminar for the level that they apply for each season. So, a Level 1 official must attend a Level 1 seminar, Level 2 attends a Level 2 and then Level 3 and 4 seminars will be combined as one seminar in many cases.

Level 1 officials are strongly encouraged to attend a seminar in their own area and most areas will mainly conduct in-person Level 1 seminars. Although there will be some hybrid Level 1 seminars with both a virtual and in-person component, the key here is that every Level 1 official is required to attend a Level 1 seminar ice session. This may require some additional coordination of scheduling for these new officials, but the reality is this on-ice practice is so critical to any future success they may have on the ice that the RICs feel it is critical that the ice session is part of their educational experience.

Level 2 seminars will also include an on-ice component that Level 2 officials need to be aware of when they plan their seminar attendance. The vast majority of Level 3 and Level 4 seminars will be virtual and officials are encouraged to attend a seminar at a date and time that is convenient for them.

USAH: Have there been any changes to the curriculum for the various levels?

ML: The curriculum for each level was standardized prior to last season and is something that will continue to be updated on an annual basis. The specific presentations, along with the video examples, have all been developed in a manner that provides valuable information specific to each level with new presentations and updated video examples being used to keep things fresh and relevant. In addition, the seminar curriculum has been coordinated with the online modules to minimize duplication and to diversify the required education for each level.

USAH: How about SafeSport and Screening – any changes to those requirements?

ML: The background screening process will remain the same as USA Hockey is required to conduct a national screen every two years on any official who is 18 years of age as of June 1 of the registration year (in this case 2022). Both the background screen and the SafeSport training are mandated by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) per the Amateur Sports Act initiated by Congress.

For SafeSport, any official who was born in 2005, or earlier, is required to complete SafeSport training on a yearly basis. This may include the full training or refresher training that is managed by the US Center for SafeSport. Although it will not have an impact on registration for this season, there was a change in SafeSport that has been made where the training will only be valid for a 12-month period of time and it not consistent with an overlapping season. This will be addressed during the summer of 2023.

USAH: Are there any other changes or areas of emphasis that you want officials to be aware of?

ML: A significant part of the discussions that took place with the RICs focused on the importance mentoring plays in the success and, ultimately, the retention of brand-new officials. USA Hockey loses 50% of our new officials every season and improving that retention rate by just 15% will result in 1,000 additional experienced officials joining our ranks each year. We need to do a better job of bringing new officials into the fold and then supporting them in ways that sets them up for a successful and rewarding experience. The RICs feel strongly the best way to positively impact this issue is through mentoring.

Experienced officials should expect to receive information later this summer that outlines expectations of a formal Mentor Program and asking them to volunteer their time and expertise to become involved as a mentor. Once we have established a pool of officials that are willing to contribute in this way to the next generation of officials, they will be assigned a group of new officials they can reach out to and guide them through the registration process, seminar attendance, assistance in completing the open book exam and reaching out to prospective assignors when the time has come they are ready to work games. Once they have stepped on the ice, that mentor can continue to be a valuable resource for the new official and provide the necessary support needed to be successful. We will also be encouraging local clubs, assignors and officials’ groups to implement Shadow Programs that will complement the Mentor Program and positively enhance the officials’ experience even more.

With everyone working together towards a common goal, USA Hockey can become a leader in addressing the officiating crisis while providing a positive experience to our next generation of officials.

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