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Jr. Sharks see uptick in 10U interest, expand program

 

10U_JrSharks

The San Jose Jr. Sharks organization is full to the brim.

With 29 teams set to take the ice this season ranging in all ages from 8U to 18U AAA, interest in hockey and in the Jr. Sharks has never been higher, as evidenced by the organization’s decision to expand the number of 10U teams for the second consecutive year. Now with four boys teams at the 10U level – two 2006-born teams and two 2007-born teams – the Jr. Sharks are sowing the seeds for organizational success at the ground level.

“You don’t build a foundation by focusing all your attention at 16U or 18U levels,” said Mike Janda, the director of player development for the Jr. Sharks. “You build a foundation by starting at Mites and Squirts. If we keep more kids here and keep these kids happy, we have a major influence on their development and as an organization, the Jr. Sharks are going to be more successful down the line as a result.”

It’s not as though the Jr. Sharks had to scramble to find players to fill four 10U teams either. Nearly 70 kids arrived to try out for the two 2007-born teams, which meant the organization had to turn away around 30 kids.

“Whether they are top-end or bottom-end kids, you don’t ever want to create a situation where you cut a kid and then they quit hockey when they’re nine or 10,” said Janda. “You want to foster that love of the game, but unfortunately, we just don’t have the ice to take everyone. It’s hard, because obviously the best kid at nine years old isn’t the best kid at 16. It’s not that we cut them because we didn’t like them – we just didn’t have the space.”

And it’s not just the boys’ side that’s growing – the girls’ game is just as strong with an 8U team at the youngest age and two 10U teams.

“Based on the sheer number of kids that play the sport, the girls’ side is definitely growing as well (as the boys),” said Janda. “We have nine girls teams this year, and every time we run a Give Hockey a Try event, we have 90 girls come out.”

With a surge in teams comes an increased demand for coaches within the organization. Janda says while there is always room for more coaches, the bulk of the coaches within the Jr. Sharks are non-parents, something Janda chalks up as a byproduct of the environment parents of hockey players in the Bay Area grew up in.

“We’re a little short on coaches, and part of that stems from where we are in that there’s not a lot of adults that are from here that have played the game,” said Janda. “So we’re always struggling to find those extra coaches. It’s a big-time commitment for people, and you have to have a passion for volunteering as well because these coaches aren’t getting paid. To have someone volunteer the amount of hours that’s required, you have to really love the game.”

But despite some growing pains here and there, Janda remains confident that the Jr. Sharks are going in the right direction by strengthening their younger age groups.

“I think the quality of the product the Jr. Sharks are putting out is getting better every year,” said Janda. “We’re so concentrated on developing skills and fundamentals and what validates what we are doing at the Mite and Squirt levels is what’s happening at the higher levels. This year, we had eight guys from our 18U AAA team move on to junior hockey, and the rest of the kids that age just wanted to go to college where they will play on club teams somewhere.

“That’s how we measure what we’re doing – when those things happen, we know we’re doing things right at the Squirt level.”

– John B. Spigott