California Rubber

California’s and Nevada’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

Academics a major emphasis at new Tahoe Hockey Academy


When the Tahoe Hockey Academy opens its doors in August for the 2016-17 school year and its inaugural class first sets foot on the campus, its student-athletes will find that things are quite a bit different than what they might be used to from an academic standpoint.

Students won’t trudge off to class and sit through long lectures, and won’t be forced to fit their lessons into the same time frame every day. While the educational program may be different, that’s not to say that it’s not rigorous and as effective as traditional schools.

The academic program at the Tahoe Hockey Academy will be directed by U.S. Performance Academy (USPA), a three-year-old organization that has developed an education system to fit the lifestyles of high-performance athletes in middle school and high school. It blends classroom learning with independent online study, allowing student-athletes to make their schooling work with their often unpredictable schedules.

“At the Tahoe Hockey Academy, we’ll have what we call a blended learning environment,” said Pete Smith, the president of USPA. “There will be an academic space set up where the kids will do their school work every day. The coaches there can structure that, and the kids can work on-demand. Our learning coach, as opposed to being digitally-based, will be there every day working with the students one-on-one. It will be the best of both worlds – a truly individualized program for each student, all being overseen by someone on site.”

Added J.J. James, the academy’s founder: “I, along with Mike and Kelly Sechrist, hired Pete and his organization early on, because we knew that we needed a strong academic program. He has founded an amazing program for elite athletes.”

Smith is a former competitive sailor who has worked in education for many years as a teacher, coach, athletics director and an advocate for integrating technology into classroom learning. He founded the company three years ago after realizing that modern technology could allow students to learn effectively outside the traditional model.

“USPA was started because we didn’t feel that when you hit middle school or high school, there had to be a decision between academics and athletics,” Smith said, noting that often the travel schedules of serious athletes in those age groups force them to miss significant classroom time in traditional schools. “You shouldn’t have to sacrifice one or the other, and learning shouldn’t be dictated by where you are in the world. So we created this program that offers rigorous academics that is flexible and integrates with students’ athletic schedules.”

The emphasis of USPA ( is on blending 21st century educational innovation with world-class competitive athletics. Its programs are designed to prepare students for college and beyond, allowing them to compete and meet the rigorous demands of their chosen sport without sacrificing excellence in academics. USPA’s curriculum meets the requirements set forth by the NCAA for online coursework.

Each student is surrounded by a support team that includes a mentor (called a “learning coach”), a virtual instructor, a virtual tutor and a college counselor. The learning coaches are paired with the students at the beginning of the admissions process, and they work to set academic goals and ensure they are met. At the Tahoe Hockey Academy, there will be a full-time teacher on site daily to oversee all academic programming.

USPA serves students in all parts of the world, and they expect to have 50 students for the 2016-17 school year. In addition to the Tahoe Hockey Academy, the USPA has partnerships with U.S. Canoe and Kayak as well as USA Synchro (synchronized swimming), and they expect to announce another significant partnership soon. They also work with individual athletes competing in everything from golf and tennis to soccer and luge.

“What’s neat about the Tahoe Hockey Academy is that the kids there will be getting some of the best coaches from the athletic perspective, and they’re going to be in an academic environment that can be tailored to needs of each individual,” Smith said.

Photo/Joe Naber

— Greg Ball

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