Thoughts on the American Development Model (ADM)

On Monday I flew to Minneapolis to work at USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team Camp. The camp boasts the top 28 U-18 girls, and top 51 O-18 players in the country and provides a great opportunity to check with everyone to assess their progress both on and off the ice. It’s been a great experience so far, and as always, I’ve been learning a lot about what it takes to develop a world-leading program.

As you can imagine, orchestrating on- and off-ice testing for 79 girls and processing the subsequent data has occupied a significant amount of time over the last 4 days. As a result, I haven’t had as much time to read or write as I typically do. I did, however, come across a great article from Andreas Wochtl, who coaches a few hours away from where our facility is. Andreas and I actually grew up playing in the same organization, but missed playing with each other by a year. As a European, I’ve been really interested to hear his thoughts on the current state of youth hockey development and learn about how he runs his programs. On that note, I want to share his article “Thoughts on the American Development Model” with you. Hopefully this stimulates some thought and discussion in the comments section below.

Thoughts on the American Development Model
I wanted to take a moment and bring USA Hockey’s ADM program to everyone’s attention.  I’m sure you all have heard mention of this program (our team is now ADM compliant etc).  This program is very extensive and detailed and there are tons of lists of factors and other implementation strategies (read sleeping pills).  I can’t claim that I’m an expert on the ins and outs of this model but I’d like to share a few highlights that I think are important and worth sharing.

This is a long-term athlete development model that was introduced by USAH a few years ago (2009 if you’re curious) essentially to grow the sport of hockey and introduce it to more and more players.  This was not done overnight nor on a whim; they spent years gathering data and talking to the leaders worldwide within the sport of hockey.  The idea was to shift the focus away from games & results. This incorrect focus led to a large numbers (more than half) of players quitting before Peewee’s and one in five players quit after their first year.   USAH wants youth teams to spend more time on the practice and effort.  The program is supported by virtually every coach from the junior/college levels and up.

The key difference and the key for the success of growing the sport of hockey is positive reinforcement and allowing players to learn, fail, and ultimately succeed.  Spending LESS time playing games, traveling to games, preparing for games, worrying about the scores of games, worrying about how much ice time I will get in games….you get the idea.  USA Hockey wants all players to have an opportunity to learn to love the game of ice hockey, not be discouraged before they even get familiar with it.  Why would anyone, adult or child, want to keep playing a sport in which the coach tells you you aren’t good enough, directly or indirectly, and you don’t get the same opportunity to participate games and practice?  I bet a lot of guys (and girls) playing in adult leagues wouldn’t be very happy if there was a coach behind the bench doing these very same things when all you want to do is go out there and have fun.

If not wasn’t enough, games are not the best place for skill development….practice is.  The best Peewee aged players touches the puck for 38 seconds per game (according to a puck possession study done by USAH) if I told parents that their son/daughter will only touch a puck for 38 seconds during an entire practice you would tell me I’m crazy.  How can you get good at anything in 38 seconds?  The answer of course is you can’t, you need time and you need repetition which you can only get in practice.  Even further, NCAA college teams or the best prep schools in the country play nearly as many games as some of the mite teams in this area.  Why?  They know it’s in their players best interest to practice to help their players get onto the next level.

Some will argue that this is taking away from the “stronger” players at the younger levels who are so far ahead of their peers, or that it doesn’t allow the kids to compete fully.  To put it bluntly, that is the biggest crock of you-know-what I’ve ever heard.  When I hear, “oh he/she is the best player in the area”, although that’s great and yes that player should be proud of his accomplishments so far, there is a 60% chance that player will quit by the time he’s a Peewee or older.  The ADM model allows the players who have the potential to be truly “better” to develop and emerge over time rather than have players to “peak out” at 11-12.  Also, it still DOES encourage competition and not what I call “everyone-gets-a-trophy”.

Attitude.  Competition is part of any sport, but it must be healthy competition not irate and, at times, shall we say ethically questionable.

The biggest obstacle to successfully implementing this program are adults.   We are the biggest problem, yet we are the ones in charge of making it happen.  Too many times have I heard/seen/experiences coaches who focus on their own short-term goals, such as shortening the bench in a Squirt game to get the W, or screaming at a player for making a bad play, convincing themselves that the kids really care if they win that tournament and get a trophy, etc etc (you know what I’m talking about) instead of really truly having the best interest of the kids in mind.  We spend energy to plan tournaments, games, and develop the most advanced practices when all we really need to do is throw a puck out there and let the kids do the rest.  A study was completed by Michigan State among 10,000 middle school and high school students to list the top 12 reasons why they play a sport; #1 for both boys and girls was to have fun.  Winning ranked as number #8 for boys and dead last #12 for girls.  There were at least 7 other reasons besides winning that were more important.  The same institute also surveyed why kids stop playing, reason #2 –> they weren’t having fun.

This is a lot of information to comprehend and digest.  The biggest takeaway is to allow our kids to have fun, truly enjoy the sport, and not try to implement adult values on kids sports.  There’s plenty of reading material out there, research papers, and other information that supports these thoughts and that you’re can Google on a late night if you’re out of sheep to count.  I have yet to come across one article supporting a 70-80 game schedule, or even 40 games, at the Peewee level but in all honesty and without sarcasm I would love to see one that did.  As I said earlier, I am not an expert on this ADM stuff nor do I have a formal education in coaching or psychology, which is why I need to spend the time to learn what is out there and what are the best ways to help young players develop.  Please feel free to share your thoughts on this subject and thank you for taking the time to read this note.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. A significant piece of the new player development recommendations revolves around following a quality hockey training program!

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