Chalk Talk: Grassroots hockey development – why it’s the best route
You make it fun and you bring it to them every day in their communities. Hockey is contagious; I have experienced many new hockey families that try it, fall in love and never look back. The game has evolved immensely. A hockey player, once perceived as an outcast in some regions, is now looked upon as one of the most elite athletes in the world. The lack of exposure of our sport in some areas has inhibited potential hockey players all across the United States, however.
Grassroots & Growing a Program
The best and most obvious place for this to begin is in the school systems. We have witnessed great strides within the NHL and our local teams, starting with the Anaheim Ducks offering free learn-to-play hockey and street hockey programs. In 2007, the Anaheim Ducks created a high school league that now includes over 50 teams. In the north, the San Jose Sharks programs continue to flourish and most recently, the Los Angeles Kings have jumped into the high school arena.
The Pyramid – There’s No Shortcut
The idea of building “from the ground up” is not new. Ice hockey, for some reason, has not yet reached out to the potentially huge numbers of children who have never played our game. Street/floor and roller hockey are inexpensive ways to develop hockey skills without ever stepping on the ice. Street and roller hockey players making the transition to ice hockey seem to have better individual puck skills than an average ice hockey player does. This is probably attributed to frequency of practice by being able to just “play anywhere.” A grassroots hockey program is recommended to follow USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) for all their player development. These types of programs build confidence in their players and allow them to reach their full potential. Furthermore, a parent that is well informed is more likely to understand the benefits from long-term player development and is less likely to chase an elite level until their child is emotionally, physically and socially ready to purse the highest competition.
Challenges & Education
A philosophy must be established so that those teaching understand how to make learning as productive as possible and so that parent involvement can be a positive, not a pressure-filled experience. Grassroots development requires widespread exposure with the emphasis on fun and fundamental skills. Higher-level training can be sought once a player shows greater interest and desire for such.
The Right Stuff – Find Coaches That Can Relate
Think like a player. Actually, think like a kid! Would you be having fun at your practices or games? Follow the most basic rule: Keep it simple and make it FUN.
The observations of this player, coach and student of the game has revealed certain “do’s” and “don’ts,” many from learning along the way. I’ve kept an open mind and embraced a willfulness to always improve my approach to development. The development of an athlete is a phenomenon that can, have and will be challenged for decades to come. Every year, the game evolves, changes and adapts to ever-improving athletes. Let’s face it, the athletes are bigger, stronger and more educated than ever before. Coaches and teachers have replaced the parent in some cases as disciplinarian and motivator of the household. The lack or decline of parental guidance over the past 30 years has challenged today’s coaches and youth leaders. The longevity of our coaches reflect not only their skill and dedication, but the ability to and keep it simple and make it FUN!
As Bob Johnson said, “It’s a great day for hockey.”
Rick Hutchinson is the director of hockey for The Rinks/Anaheim Ducks and has spent the past 25 years developing hockey programs that have produced thousands of hockey players in Southern California … and he’s just getting started with the Great Park Ice facility in Irvine on the horizon.