The first time Sara Davis was exposed to USA Hockey’s American Development Model was shortly after her oldest son, Zack, joined the Twin Bridges Lightning program. Davis, who played volleyball and softball at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois, knew even before she had children that she would be 100 percent invested in whatever sport they chose.
So as a hockey mom, she observed the cross-ice practices and greater number of repetitions the kids were receiving. She also couldn’t help but notice the club’s strong emphasis on fundamentals, and how much fun the kids were having. While she was still learning about hockey, she knew the Lightning were doing something special, and she liked what she saw.
“[It was like] they were playing soccer on the ice,” recalled Davis, who is in her fourth year on the board of directors and serves as the club’s secretary. “My kids were looking forward to going to practices. Hockey, to my kids, is a lifestyle. We are at four different hockey rinks every Saturday and Sunday, and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Other kids and their parents apparently agree. Prior to being recognized by USA Hockey as a model association in 2016, the Lightning, which encompasses areas north of St. Louis and Madison County in Illinois, had more than 50 kids enrolled in the 6U and 8U age groups. Since adopting the ADM, those numbers have more than doubled. According to club president Craig Duffy, first-year 8U players were pushing the second-year 8U kids in progression of development.
“We were starting to see how well kids were skating,” said Duffy, who joined the Lightning six years ago when his oldest son, Lincoln, began playing at age 5. “Word was getting around the community that kids were having fun. Parents couldn’t believe how far kids were coming along in such a short time. That led everyone to pay attention.”
Well, almost everyone. After receiving some resistance from the older age groups, Duffy contacted USA Hockey ADM regional manager Bob Mancini for advice.
“Even though we are very strong in our belief in the ADM at all ages, becoming a model program does not require [an association] to follow the ADM at ages 13 and above,” Mancini explained. “My suggestion was to not roll it out to all age groups at the same time. Sometimes, it’s better to just allow the older age groups to continue as-is for the first year or two before the ideas, concepts and best practices of the ADM take hold.”
Duffy played collegiate hockey at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. It was while searching for the best hockey program for his son that he first discovered the ADM. As an engineer, the scientific approach of the ADM and its concepts made perfect sense to him.
“The logic seemed very sound and reasonable, as far as programming for kids based on age-appropriate and age-specific training,” he said.
Other factors also contributed to the club’s rise in membership. Davis credits the strong leadership and commitment of Duffy, the coaches, and volunteers. Having support from the NHL’s St. Louis Blues has enabled the program to successfully integrate hockey into physical education programs at area schools. The Lightning offers a spring league focusing on small-ice games, another aspect of the ADM. Kids are encouraged to pursue baseball, football and other sports during the off-season, to improve hand-eye coordination and overall athleticism.
The club also supports a number of community projects, including the American Red Cross Blood Drive, Adopt-A-Family, and the Child ID program. Last year, 15 players went to an area church and helped prepare a meal for the homeless.
“They brought in 11 buses full of homeless people,” Davis said. “Those kids waited on them hand and foot. One of our players was helping them walk to the restroom, he offered to give them his coat. It really grew [the kids] as human beings.”
Duffy believes fostering a sense of community is important, since the club is a nonprofit organization.
“We don’t pay anybody in our club,” he explained. “Everything is strictly on a volunteer basis. So you have a lot of people with an extremely high amount of passion for the kids and watching them grow.”
That growth is translating to success on the ice. A travel team from 10U, 12U and 14U each won state championships last season, while one made the semifinals. Though he takes pride in those triumphs, Davis has a more important goal in mind: retention.
“If you played this year, come back next year,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.