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.
Long before Johnathan Morrison was the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee, he was a 30-something-year-old trying to find his way on the international circuit.
Little did Morrison know, a random phone call in October 2005 would change his life. He remembers it like it was yesterday. He had taken a puck to the face a month earlier and was still recovering from a broken cheekbone when Scott Brinkman gave him a ring.
As the officiating advisory group leader for the International Paralympic Committee at the time, Brinkman was inquiring to see if Morrison had any interest in officiating a three-team sled hockey tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“He called and asked me if I wanted to get involved with the sport,” Morrison recalled. “Honestly, at that time I had never seen a game played. We were having this conversation about getting involved with the sport and he mentioned that there was an event in February 2006 that he wanted to send me to. It was kind of a chance for me to learn the ins and outs of the sport.”
Wait. There was more.
“He told me if I did good he would send me to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino,” Morrison said. “I had just moved to the Twin Cities and had just started working the WCHA and that would’ve been right in the middle of playoff time. I remember saying to Scott, ‘When exactly will I know if I’m going to go to Torino?’ I asked because I needed to tell my college supervisor that I was going to be gone for the playoffs. He goes, ‘Well, let me rephrase that. Congratulations. You’ve been selected to go to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.’ I was like, ‘Oh crap. Here we go.’”
All of a sudden Morrison was on a crash course, trying to learn the ropes of sled hockey as fast as possible. He watched a bunch of DVDs to study the game as well as any YouTube clips he could get his hands on.
Then it was off to Colorado Springs without any sort of in-game experience.
“I got very lucky because the other individual that they sent to that event in Colorado Springs was a gentleman by the name of Scott McDonald,” Morrison said. “He had been around the sport for a long time and he basically taught me the game.”
While the differences were vast, especially considering Morrison had only ever worked with traditional hockey prior to that event, the biggest difference came down to positioning on the ice.
“Everything I knew about positioning basically got thrown out the window,” Morrison said. “You have to be on top of the play at all times because the penalties are much more subtle and much more difficult to see. You have a stick that’s only 100 centimeters long, so that hook is really hard to see.”
Besides that, Morrison also learned the hard way that certain plays look a heckuva lot different.
“A guy using his stick underneath his sled to try to shoot a puck in a motion for someone that hasn’t been around sled hockey looks a lot like he basically threw it with his hand,” Morrison said. “I remember I actually waved off a goal that I thought was put in with his hand and everybody else knew he put it in with his stick.”
That three-team sled hockey tournament, featuring the United States, Canada, and Germany, gave Morrison the confidence he needed heading into the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino.
“I had just worked a bunch of games at a really high level,” Morrison said. “I was seeing the best players, so I felt good. When I actually got to the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino it was one of those things where I had to step up and get better every game. There was no choice.”
For Morrison, the first game of the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino was life-changing.
“When I was younger I was hoping to make the NHL (as an official),” Morrison said. “Once I was about 30 years old, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so I kind of switched mental gears and said, ‘OK. Let’s go the international route.’ Obviously the brass ring for the international route is the Olympics. That’s what I was pushing for. That’s what I thought I had my best shot at. Then all of a sudden I get this call that I am going to the Paralympics. It took my breath away. I had been working for something like that, and once it happened, all I wanted to do was get ready for it.”
Since then, Morrison has worked three more Paralympic Games (Vancouver, Sochi, and Pyeongchang) on top of handling his current role with the International Paralympic Committee.
In that position, Morrison works with the technical side of the sport, which basically focuses on our rulebooks, as well as the officiating development side of the sport, which essentially is a pathway that finds a way to get the most out of our officials. He also oversees the assigning of certain officials to certain tournaments
“I am looking for officials that have succeeded at some of the highest levels that show a passion for the sport,” Morrison said. “I’d say the passion for the sport is as important, if not more important, than what they have accomplished elsewhere. I don’t want the guy that calls me and is like, ‘Hey. I’m a good linesman. Can I go to the World Championships?’ Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. I want guys that actually love the sport.”
That became a focus based on his experiences with the sport over the better part of the last two decades. He has grown extremely passionate about it, and as the leader of the bunch, he wants every member of his officiating crews to feel the same way.
“I’ve been in this sport long enough and I know guys that have worked the Calder Cup and worked the Frozen Four that I could introduce them to sport the same way I was introduced and they’d do a good job,” Morrison said. “That said, I want that individual who is so passionate about the sport that they have taken a week out of their summer to come and train with us. I’m looking for someone who is passionate about the sport and I think we’ve done a good job with that so far.”