Preparing for failure

Today’s post from Andreas Wochtl touches on an incredibly important topic that I think may be the single biggest problem with youth sports in general, but especially ice hockey.

Last week I came across an infographic from USA Hockey (Andreas links to the article below) displaying the number of games in a typical peewee, junior, college, and professional season. As you’re probably aware, the NHL, which is largely reliant on ticket sales for revenue, plays an 82 game regular season. A lot of junior seasons are set up similarly for the same reason. The college season, on the other hand, plays about half as many games (typically around 2/week for around 40), but places a much larger emphasis on practice and training. In other words, the focus is on development.

The question, which should be one every youth parent is asking, is why does the typically PeeWee (and Bantam, Midget, etc) season more closely resemble an NHL season than a college one?

Players skate more, handle a puck more, and have infinitely more opportunities to develop skills in practice than in a game, yet kids play 65+ game schedules. The travel associated with these ridiculous schedules also often leads to cancelled on- or off-ice practices. This system sacrifices preparation for competition and ultimately impedes the development of our youth players.

Hopefully the coaches and parents reading this follow Andreas’ call to action! Enjoy the post below.

Is your player getting enough practice?

USA Hockey’s ADM is a great model as I’ve stated in numerous previous posts.  Having grown up in Sweden this concept fits in so well with my own experience and coaching style.  It focuses on progressive skill development at an age-appropriate level.  One aspect of the model that speaks to me is the 3:1 practice-to-game ratio.  Unfortunately there are not many teams (if any) that truly accept, believe, and follow the model.

USA Hockey American Development Model

Some teams claim to accomplish this requirement by taking all the practice offered throughout the calendar year – tryouts, summer ice, summer camps, etc.  The problem here is that a sporadic practice in the summer – in my humble opinion –  is a little bit of a waste of time.  Development takes time and dedication – skating once a week in July is not development.  Although summer practice may be fun, it’s maintenance at best.  

The opposite end of the spectrum of this issue is that teams play around 60 games – some even more (see USAH article citing Team Comcast Peewees).  I’ve worked with players on this team and I know they did not practice 228 times last year (228/3=76 games).  To be fair, this happens at every skill level.  A look at last seasons game stats show Jr Flyers Squirt Minor played 71 games….Delco Phantoms Peewee AA 53 games… Even teams that claim they only play 35-40 games likely play well over that after taking into account the three-four tournaments they played in.

As we are nearing the halfway mark of our seasons, tally up the games and practices.  Ask your coach if the team is on the right track.  At any age or level practices are important, and they should be fun!  It’s on you as a coach to take a stand and work with your organization to fix this problem.  Ask your organization for more practice time, shared ice time, less game slots, and no tournaments.  Stack the deck in your favor.  I’ve never seen a parent want to spend $100 to get 10 extra practices but I know that spending that amount on 4 games in a tournament is never an issue.  Yes, we – the American hockey community – are improving and change takes time but we are still way behind and this is another way we can address it.

Happy holidays!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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