World juniors: Want to change hockey in Canada? Follow Ontario soccer system
Posted by Dean Holden at January 7th, 2014
by Damien Cox, 6 January 2014
The score isn’t kept for kids playing soccer in this province. Think that’ll go over in Canada? Not a chance, Damien Cox writes.
Brent Sutter can identify “skill” as our national shortcoming in hockey if he wants.
That’s intriguing coming from a member of an amazing hockey family that was, for the most part, known more for emphasizing grit than skill, although this Sutter was a very skilled player.
But now he’s a coach and a very successful one, and now times are a lot different from when he was the fifth centre behind 99, 66, Dale Hawerchuk and Mark Messier on the 1987 Canada Cup team.
Whether it was fair to Sutter to say that about his juniors after a very tough bronze medal game loss to Russia, well you be the judge.
He was asked, he answered.
Here’s the problem. We already held a summit on hockey development back in 1998, and many good things happened. The skilled talent we are producing as a country now is as good as ever. In five of the last six NHL drafts, the teenager judged to be the best on the planet has been a Canadian. That’s just one measure, of course, but when as a country you’re producing Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nathan MacKinnon, it doesn’t suggest the country can’t produce skill.
And that’s before, as many believe, Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid go first overall in the next two drafts.
The question, Sutter seems to be asking, is whether Canada produces enough layers of skill, and it’s hard to answer that without knowing how much is enough.
Moreover, the recipe for changing the system to produce more skill is clearly unpalatable to most Canadians.
Just look at the way people responded to the moving of ages for when bodychecking is permitted among children. Outrage? How will they learn how to hit and take a hit?
There are all kinds of clinics and hockey schools out there that teach the finer points of the game, but when it comes to playing games, most people, it seems, want to mimic the NHL.
You want to change hockey in this country? Follow the soccer model being used in Ontario these days.
Smaller nets. Fewer players. Smaller balls for younger children. Smaller fields.
And the big kicker. No keeping score. Just let ’em play.
Think that’ll go over in Canada? Not a chance. Some people might want things to be different, but they don’t want to change.
Instead, we want more of what we have. More time on the ice, in particular, which blocks out all the cross-training possibilities in other sports.
It’s nice that Canadian kids now routinely kick a soccer ball around for practice before games.
Nice because none of them can actually get the opportunity to play the sport. No time. Their calendars are filled with hockey and more hockey and more training and more hockey.
And then hockey games and more games and more games.
Look, with four kids in the sport, I’m okay with it as it is. They’ve all had, and are having, good experiences in the game. I’m not necessarily advocating great changes, but then, I’m not pushing my kids to be elite hockey players.
I want them to enjoy the game for the their entire lives. I try to put them at a level that fits their abilities and commitment.
But if the system changed tomorrow to something like the soccer model, I sure wouldn’t object, either.
Last week, I found myself at a rink in Oakville looking up at banners of previous teams that had won AAA provincial titles 15 or 20 years ago.
Didn’t recognize a single name. Thought I’d recognize at least one.
I’m certain those teams and those players and those parents and those coaches believed back then they were on the fast track to somewhere, maybe the NHL.
But it almost always doesn’t happen because of the numbers game.
But did we teach them? Did they learn how to play the game or just how to compete and win?
Great questions to which only they would have the answers.
Skill? I think Canada has lots and lots of skill. You’ll see an awfully skillful Olympic team announced Tuesday.
We lost to Finland , and then Russia , at the world juniors because the team wasn’t good enough, the team might have been too young, opposition goaltending was excellent and because European teams always feel more comfortable on the larger international ice surface.
It doesn’t mean we can’t win on it. But they’ll always have a great comfort level. And when that tournament is played repeatedly in North America on smaller rinks as has been the case, it might give us a false sense of security as to where our game matches up with theirs.
Look, I’d love to see the Canadian system embrace a model that allowed kids to play other sports more and emphasizes development over competition.
I just can’t imagine it happening.
Moreover, understand this; when Canadian wins gold at the world juniors again, as it will, there will be many who say all is fixed.
Or that nothing was ever broken.
We only really care about the results. Not the process.
<Timely article given all the discussion in hockey circles after the completion of the WJC. In my opinion, Damien hit the nail on the head with this article; those that want change might not really want it after all. It reminds me of the Tom Cruise / Jack Nicholson lines from A Few Good Men, “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” (Hard to believe the movie came out in 1992!)
Myself, I agree with pretty much Damien suggests, especially sizing the playing surface, equipment, number of players and rules to fit the kids chronological age. (I am working on something of this nature myself!) Even take it a step further and create 1-year age categories all the way up instead of 2-year grouping to somewhat help manage the size disparity through puberty. There is an interesting article here concerning birthdate and birthdate effects.
Personally, I am big on competition, keeping score, even in practice. In my experience, kids – even Timbits – are naturally competitive. I think we do a disservice to bubble-wrap them to the point we don’t keep score. I have no real burning issues against no official scores in Timbits and perhaps Novice, but think we should at least keep score in Atom and above.
As a coach, I try to teach life skills through sport and that involves learning how to compete; to win and lose with class, because it is a competitive world in which we live (Re: education system, careers, etc.) as these are things that will happen to our kids – not just in sport – but in life. The scoreboard, like school grades, provide a dose of reality feedback, a measuring stick. It is only a snapshot in time which shows what happened at the moment. Players can control their own current and future effort/performance and this will influence the scoreboard, but it won’t guarantee an outcome. However, they will learn they are responsible for the things they can control: work ethic, desire, attitude, deportment and yes, even skill development! Do they do extra deliberate practice away from the team/coach?
My interpretation of what Damien was trying to convey by not keeping score, is to take the competitive side away from the adults who are creating the problems (IE: to avoid double-shifting the best players or minimizing time/certain situations for the less skilled, or behaving as poor role models in front of impressionable kids, etc.) By removing this fear, it allows the kids to feel free to learn by making mistakes without unreasonable ice time/situational repurcussions – after all, isn’t that how we all learn?
Food for thought… love to read the comments on the site… people are doing a great job of presenting a wide range of opinions while keeping it classy. Thank you for reading and sharing. Hopefully we can move towards achieving the best system in which to develop our youth so that they enjoy the process while becoming solid citizens. Cheers, DH>
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