USA Hockey was at the vanguard when it launched the American Development Model in 2009. It revolutionized youth hockey, and soon the nation’s entire sporting landscape took notice. Today, the ADM provides the training framework for nearly 20 national governing bodies and countless municipalities and sport clubs, all of which are helping lead a crusade to do what’s best for kids.
Evidence of that groundswell showed last week at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the U.S. Olympic Committee hosted a national youth sport symposium. A large and diverse spectrum of organizations ranging from NGBs and grassroots sport clubs to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Strength and Condition Association joined together at the event to rally for continued ADM expansion.
As part of the symposium, USA Hockey’s Ken Martel summarized how the ADM attracted more players to ice hockey and kept them in the game longer, improving growth and retention rates nationwide since its debut. That’s an important measure of the ADM’s success, but it’s not the only measure. The ADM has also been worth its weight in gold on the international stage, as the youngest generation of American hockey talent continues to pile up medals with unprecedented regularity in the ADM era.
It’s become a hidden-in-plain-sight axiom at the professional level: The best way to build a winner is by developing talent. The ADM begins that process in youth sport with age-appropriate, high-performance training and competition. But it’s not a fast track. And with so many people in youth sport determined to win a race to nowhere, sometimes 12U trophy-hunting subverts long-term success. Ultimately, the kids pay the price.
“Parents think that their kid needs to make an elite team as soon as possible to be on the right track as early as possible, when really the best thing is to just give them good experiences, fundamental physical and sport skills, fun and confidence, and let the process work,” said Erin Smith, managing director of education and training for US Lacrosse.
“If they aren’t patient and don’t let the long-term process work, they risk kids specializing too soon, burning out, suffering overuse injuries, and ultimately giving up on sports before they even have a chance to really reap the benefits of the activity. And that rushed approach, whether by parents or coaches, also marginalizes those who may be less skilled or less advanced early on, thus shutting out a whole segment of kids who deserve a quality sport experience.
“At its roots, the ADM is asking everyone to slow down making judgements about kids’ full athletic potential, and instead focus on what’s developmentally right for kids at each stage of growth and development, physically, cognitively and social-emotionally.”
Smith was preaching to the choir during last week’s symposium, but her message is spreading as more NGBs, sport clubs and communities shift from youth sport designed for adults to a child-centric development model.
“It gives me goosebumps every time we hear another success story of an organization or sport leader telling us how they implemented an aspect of ADM in their program, whether it’s kid-sized playing surfaces, faster-paced practices, teaching games for understanding, making time for fun, inclusion of a wide variety of kids on the skill continuum, developmentally-based coach training, et cetera,” said Smith.
“We know the change needs to happen one leader and one program and a time, and that keeps us going day in and day out. The more ADM philosophies and principles become the norm, the less parents are going to feel the fear of missing out, because if everyone’s doing it the ADM way, we get rid of this need to keep up with the Joneses and we ultimately give the game and the sport experience back to the kids, which is who it is for to begin with.”
The USOC ADM Youth Sport Symposium included an active play segment for coaches from around the country to experience small-area games from a player's perspective. T.J. Buchanan from US Lacrosse's athlete development staff led the session and described several valuable coaching techniques in the video below.