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5 Responses so far.

  1. Richard Bercuson says:

    Excellent comments from Messrs. Cox and Holden. As I wrote in my book “Inside Coaching Hockey” (richardbercuson.ca), hockey is the only team sport in Canada that has missed the development boat. Our sport has made no accommodations for size or age: not the nets, rink size, markings, penalties, puck, rules…and we wonder why our kids are behind? Except for game length, nearly everything is the same for the seven year olds as the pros. That doesn’t make sense no matter which way one cuts it.

    This is no knee-jerk reaction to losing a couple of junior hockey games at the WJC. These things happen in sport. Our development programs, such as they are, have stagnated while the rest of the hockey world has worked hard to create intelligent, age-specific programs that include professional mentors and curricula that are reflective of how kids learn, not how to manufacture pros.

    Mr. Cox’s comments are similar to those expressed by Howie Meeker in the recent interview with Roy MacGregor as published in getsportIQ. Until our associations are directed by development people (ie. coaches and their ilk), our game will continue to plateau. Whether or not one keeps score is merely one small point. If people were to step back and look really carefully at how other disciplines, in sport as well as the arts or education, deal with progressive teaching and age appropriate tools, we’d agree that what we do in hockey is not serving the kids well.

    Producing elite calibre athletes is not the goal, merely a by-product. Skills for life and an appreciation of how the game can enrich one’s life should be the aim. We don’t even come close to that goal when we look at the hockey drop out rates in bantam and midget, which are alarming.

    Brent Sutter’s comment about not having the layers of skill is pretty much what those who lead the game have been bemoaning for years, well before the 1998 summit.

    The game needs an overhaul at the 5-10 year old ages. Once we make it fun and age appropriate, we will likely see higher retention rates. As long as it remains a miniature version of pro hockey, we can’t expect to meet the fundamental needs of our kids of any age.

  2. Craig Shaw says:

    I have been doing a fair bit of thinking about hockey development in our country and the articles posted here and elsewhere almost always consistent with what I have seen in my 10 years of coaching youth hockey in Canada and Japan.

    Consider this: when you take into account the numbers of kids playing hockey in Canada and Finland, it would be the equivalent of a school with 600 kids competing against a school with 30 kids. Guess what? The school with 30 kids won 5-1. Wow, how did this happen?

    Perhaps these two stories will shed light on the issue: I was the main hockey development coach for a youth club in Osaka, Japan in the late nineties. As a new coach, I dutifully pulled out my Hockey Canada manual and ran practices in a typical Canadian manner. My counterpart across the city happen to be a Finn — I know it seems a little too neat, but I swear that it is true — ran his program in a European fashion, not that I knew this at the time. The structure and numbers of our clubs were essentially the same.

    Guess what? My teams would get blown out of the water as their skating, skills and hockey IQ were far behind the players from the other club. Curious, I picked the Finnish fellows brain over several meetings at the local pub.

    He explained to me that Canadian hockey has been successful despite having a weak development system. Most of the elite players are essentially self-taught on the streets, outdoor rinks and basements of the country or parents spend a ton of money hiring specialized individual ‘skill coaches.’ When you have that many kids playing the game, you are going to get a few outliers every year such as Stamkos and Crosby. These stars have obscured the truth about Canadian hockey development I believe.

    His program was very similar to the American Development Model. I then switched models the next year and my teams become more more competitive with his.

    Fast forward to the 2005 team I have helped coach for the past 3 1/3 years. We have been doing the following:

    a) 3:1 practice to game ratio
    b) majority of practices similar to the ADM practices
    c) encourage kids to take breaks from hockey and play other sports (soccer, floorball, lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming, baseball, etc.)

    In short, all the LTAD ideas. See the article, “What Are They Doing?”

    The results: we have a small cohort of 19 kids born in 2005. With that, we have played in 8 tournament games against much larger organizations. So far, we have scored 104 goals and have given up 3. The kids generally enjoy their hockey experience and skate, handle the puck and play the game far better on average than any team that we have seen. Our biggest problem? Finding teams to play.

    This is not to say that we have not been met with the resistance along the way, some calling our coaching style a ‘circus.’ I think that we may be silencing our critics. Like it was asked above, “Can [Canadian hockey people] handle the truth?”

  3. Kevin says:

    Interesting read. Call me crazy but as a kid growing up in the Western US, I saw tons of talent that went on to play at every level of junior hockey from B to Major Junior, NCAA, lower level pro leagues in NA and Europe.. tons of kids that started with or consistently played ROLLER HOCKEY growing up.

    Watch a NARCh Pro game and tell me the decision making and skill involved doesn’t remind you of international ice hockey.

  4. Douglas lilly says:

    great read, funny how associations just coast along year in and year out with people complaining about the same issues as disscussed in your acticle. It seems to be, all about who can get there child up the ladder the fastest. Hockey canada needs changes in some area’s….ie: age cut off dates, they are losing out on a quarter of their talent pool. Skill developement is so important and is lacking, the culture of the sport is very wrong. How many good hockey players and thrown to the waste side due to the fact that they don’t even have a chance. Hockey associations should have to be held accountable and not just a money grab on the backs of kids.

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