Understanding USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM)

While I was in Burlington, VT watching one of Team USA’s games during the Women’s World Hockey Championship, I was sitting in the stands behind two coaches talking about USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM). If you aren’t familiar with the ADM, I highly encourage you to check out the ADM website here: USA Hockey’s ADM.

The conversation went something like:

Coach 1: The program by us started using the ADM. All cross-ice. Small area games and skill work. No full-ice drills at all.

Coach 2: Even at older ages? What about bantams?

Coach 1: Same thing.

Coach 2: So when do you teach team concepts?

Coach 1: Say you’re supposed to do it on a clipboard during the game.

Swing and a miss folks. From what I could gather, “Coach 1”, the educator in this instance, was under the impression that the ADM was nothing more than a cross-ice, station-based practice system. It’s as if he sat in on the first 20 minutes of an 8 and under ADM presentation and walked out assuming that’s the way the entire program runs.

Let’s set the record straight. USA Hockey’s ADM is nothing more than age-appropriate development recommendations. That’s it. It’s a very simple, yet INCREDIBLY powerful idea, and they’ve done a brilliant job in putting their guidelines together.

I’ve written quite a bit about different reasons why hockey programs should rapidly embrace the ADM. If you’re new to the site, check out these posts to get caught up:

  1. The State of Youth Hockey
  2. Hockey Development Resistance
  3. The Truth About Practice: The 10,000 Hour Rule
  4. Hockey Development Recommendations
  5. What if Talent Doesn’t Exist?

I don’t work for USA Hockey’s ADM. I have no financial incentive to support them. Interestingly, my introduction to the ADM team came about because I was writing about a lot of similar concepts regarding age-appropriate training based on research I had done, and people were forwarding the articles along to USA Hockey, who later got in touch with me to make me aware of their ADM. When reading a little further about the ADM, I discovered that USA Hockey had put together comprehensive age-appropriate on- and off-ice training guidelines for every level of hockey based on decades of research from athletic development experts from all over the world. In other words, they weren’t and aren’t promoting their opinion. It’s not a former successful player saying, “I think this is what it takes to reach elite levels.” It’s not a hockey director saying, “this is what the successful players that have come through our organization have done.”

The more research I do into long-term athletic development, which could just as appropriately be thought of as “the road map to developing world-class athletes/hockey players”, the more I continue to find other sources with no allegiance to USA Hockey providing information that validates their ADM.

What the majority of coaches may not realize is that our current system has largely failed at developing world-class players. On an international scale, the US succeeds because we have drastically more participants to choose from than other countries (with the exception of Canada). Think about it. If you coach a U-16 team in a district that had 30 total players at that level to choose a team of 20 from, and you played a game against a team that had 10,000 total players to choose 20 from, who would you expect to win that game? Would that team constantly beating you by a goal or two be an indication that they had a development system that should be mimicked? Obviously not, yet, as a country (and really a continent), we consistently overlook the incredibly skilled players that continue emerging from European countries with a DRASTICALLY smaller participant pool to pick from.

While there are a number of “leaks” in the system that could be addressed, much of what is wrong in youth hockey today stems from placing adult values on youth sports. We push for early excellence at the expense of development. We replace preparation with competition. It’s an incredibly short-sighted approach, and the early emphasis on selecting elite players pushes a significant number of players out of the game, including many “late bloomers” who would have surpassed their early-bloomer counterparts late in their high school years. There is no such thing as an elite 12 year-old, but our current system forces a lot of what would be elite 23 year-olds out of the game because they aren’t the best at 12.

We’re winning the race to the wrong finish line. It’s not about winning championships at 8 years old. Frankly, there shouldn’t even be championships at 8. There shouldn’t even really be leagues! The goal is to maximize the skill development, overall athleticism, and CHARACTER while having a ton of fun, so the player develops a passion for the sport. As the player progresses in age and ability, so to must the intended developmental goals. But force-feeding young players advanced tactical concepts, or doing anything with an intent to win at the expense of development is cheating the players, and cheating the game.

We need to make a change. We need to continue pushing for a system that favors inclusion and equal participation at younger ages. One that allows players to develop a passion and love for the game that will fuel their efforts throughout the rest of their career. One that creates more world-class players. We need a system that provides age-appropriate guidelines so that players at all levels can maximize their development at each stage of the game, and stop assuming that pushing the tactics of more advanced levels down to younger ages will bring about more desirable results. For the first time, we have exactly that: USA Hockey’s American Development Model

If we do it right, we’ll have a lot more players like this:

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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