In the vast ocean of youth hockey, the best way for some of the youngest fish to learn is not by swimming in a single-file, straight line, but by spreading their fins and doing a little of everything.
And it's not opinion. It’s science.
"Chaos can be fun," said Dave Starman, masters-level instructor for USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program and college hockey scout for the Montreal Canadiens.
Less Structure, More Development
NHL practices can be military-like in precision. When it comes to practices for younger players, less – in terms of structure – can be more.
"It's important, especially at the younger level, because if they're not moving around, they don't have the ability to teach themselves to do a lot of things," Starman said. "I can stand there and tell a kid to move his foot one way, or move his foot another way, but when that kid goes out there and starts moving his feet around, and falls down, and gets up, all that trial-and-error just makes you a better player because you're teaching yourself a lot of stuff."
More than Cross-Ice
That's where USA Hockey’s American Development Model comes in, a program Starman said is tailor-made to be the guiding principle of an 8U practice.
"Number one is, people need to realize that the ADM is more than just cross-ice playing," Starman said. "The beauty of the ADM is that it's laid out so clearly, and part two of it is it's so science-based.
"What you're reading is not hypothesis; what you're reading is fact."
Keeping Kids Engaged
Keeping things fresh and lively, Starman said, are keys to maximizing what a young player is getting out of a practice.
Unconventional drills and games can be the key to helping harness different skills a hockey player needs to be successful.
"For 8Us, look at sharks and minnows," Starman said. "Sharks and minnows is chaos, but the beauty of sharks and minnows for our little kids is they can skate from one side of the rink to the other in any pattern they want to.
"They're not getting told, 'Go in a straight line, and make a left,' or, 'Make two circles, and take a shot.' They're figuring out where to go, they're finding open space, and they're figuring out a way to avoid being tagged. They're keeping their head up, conscious of where the danger is."
No Standing Around
At such a young age, and still firmly in developmental mode, Starman said keeping hockey enjoyable and a fun game is also paramount.
"There's no sport for taking out the garbage, because kids don't want to do it," Starman said. "For hockey, it's kind of the same thing. If you make it something they have to go to, or make it something that's not enjoyable, they're not going to play."
That's precisely where the ADM comes in.
"The one thing the ADM has done is allow both coaches and players to have a little more fun because of the fact that you're in more small-area games, you're in more stations, your compete level is higher, your ability to get more kids moving at the same time (is higher), and I'm talking even up to the bantams," Starman said. "The best way to make a kid not want to play is to make him or her stand around and watch others play. With what we're doing right now, everybody is in motion; there's not a lot of standing around."
Teach a Kid to Fish
It can create chaos, like Starman said, but a little chaos in the ocean could be just what the fishes need.
"You know the expression 'You give a man a fish, he can eat for a night, but you teach him to fish, he can eat forever?'" Starman said. "A lot of that is true when you get into unstructured situations in their small areas because they're teaching themselves.
"When you teach yourself something, you tend to remember it a lot longer than being taught something that either, one, you may not understand right away, or two, you're not in the mental frame of mind to learn.
"That's one of the major reasons why we've made a lot of strides with our younger players. They're having more fun because they're picking a lot of things up through their own play and competition."
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.