USA Hockey’s Development Model Forges A New Pathway

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc

In the past several weeks I’ve commented on the role of single-sport specialization and the need for age-appropriate sport development guidelines.  Here’s one that I think gets it right.  This is USA Hockey’s American Development Model, or “ADM”.  USA Hockey asks the question “What’s wrong with where we’re going” and from the introduction to the ADM here’s what they have to say:

“For starters, many athletes spend too much time traveling, competing and recovering from competition and not enough time preparing for it. Second, there is too heavy a focus on the result rather than the performance. This attitude leads to long-term failure, as coaches forgo the development of skills to focus on specific game tactics. And third, too many athletes are specializing too early on. An early focus on just one or two sports often leads to injuries, burnout and capping athletic potential.”

 Hockey, like many youth sports in the U.S. has followed the pathway towards early age specialization, coaching for results sometimes at the expense of development, and overutilization of full-ice games even at the younger age groups.  While not the “rule” for all hockey associations these points made up the culture of the youth game. Fundamentally, the questions that were asked are: is the current model the best one for long term player development and will it keep kids in the sport for the long term?

The conclusion by USA Hockey was that it is necessary to start a cultural change in youth hockey, and a new model for long-term player development was needed.  They also decided that the best place to start is at the youngest age groups.  After this comprehensive review USA Hockey partnered with the NHL to produce the ADM. The model created emphasizes multiple touches on the puck, cross-ice practices and games, fostering a true love for the game of hockey, and finally age-appropriate competitive excellence.  As far as I can tell USA Hockey’s objective is to create the highest skilled competitive players who want to continue playing into college, the NHL, or adult leagues.

Ok, so that sets the tone for the direction, but how exactly do you enact the types of changes that are necessary to correct the perceived problem?

We spoke to Kevin McLaughlin the senior director of Hockey Development for USA Hockey, and one of the principal forces behind the ADM.  To be sure there are challenges in starting up any system that challenges the status quo, or gets to the very heart of cultural change within a sport.  Mr. McLaughlin told us that the ADM program has been in place about 2 ½ years and is already showing great buy-in from U.S. based coaches.  Interestingly, he pointed out that the relative newness of youth hockey in the U.S. as compared to Canada allows a national governing body greater chances of success in starting new programs.And it can only help to have the NHL in their corner.

The program is relatively new and it will take quite a bit more time to see how it ultimately succeeds as far as keeping kids in the game for the long term.  But I really think they’ve done a lot of things right.  If you’re a hockey league or association and you don’t know about the ADM take a look at the extremely detailed website, get in touch with them, and see if you can implement it in your area.  Better yet, if you are involved in some other sport I’d really encourage you to take a look at this.  Perhaps you can do something similar and contribute to the long-term growth of the kids in your sport.

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3 Responses to USA Hockey’s Development Model Forges A New Pathway

  1. Doug DePeppe says:

    Dev,
    It’s great that you are mentioning ADM, especially in the context of all you are doing in the thought leadership department for youth sports! USA Hockey is in a leadership position in this regard as well, championing a notion that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in OUTLIERS — namely that youth sports today has a fundamental flaw in its ultimate objective insofar as the system excludes half the athletes based on birth year enrollment.

    In other words, if the objective of youth sports is developing athletes (without mentioning here the citizenship-building dimensions of youth sports), then the model should know the core components and design the system in a way that promotes those core components. Instead, youth sports focuses on winning and identifying the “best” 10-year olds, to the exclusion of late bloomers, which is flawed: the late bloomers move to other sports, and the “best” athletes cannot be measured pre-puberty. It’s a lose-lose system.

    What ADM has done is base its model in sports science and question the “system” itself. They’re trying to create a better system. That’s showing leadership.

  2. Are there any studies on benefits since the ADM was implemented? I’m specifically interested in comparison of physical activity and skill executions. My searches have not found anything yet.

  3. shayne says:

    As a parent, I hate ADM. And I mean HATE it. My 8yo eats, breathes, sleeps, and slobbers hockey. The only hockey events we make my 8yo attend are team practices and games – he still BEGS for all 5 hours/week of Stick&Puck, skating lessons, and skills lessons. He plays hockey 10 hours/week (along with flag football – “A team” one grade ahead of his – in the fall, and lacrosse – 1 to 2 grades ahead – in the spring). He’s already been recruited by 2 AAA teams that don’t even start competing until the kids are 11 years old.

    8yo is MITES. Teaching basic skating, hockey stops, and basic stick handling. No concept of how to play defense. No concept of offensive positioning. No concept of how to be a teammate. And that 1/2 ice of the “beehive syndrome” is miserable. My 8yo came home from every team practice, and game, in tears & begging not to return. For a kid who loves to play hockey, and who loves skating & skills lessons, how am I supposed to make him go to practice & games when he’s bored and miserable. The result? We moved him up to SQUIRTS. SQUIRT ADM is still boring, and very easy, compared to his skills lessons (that routinely include AA & AAA PeeWees & Bantams). He’s, thankfully, enjoying the full-ice so maybe he’ll stick with “organized hockey” a little longer.

    Here’s my biggest complaint with ADM. The kids who love hockey, and are committed to improving, are the kids taking skating & skills lessons, attending clinics and camps, and choosing to get up for 6am Stick&Puck. So, where are these kids, who so love the game and want to improve, supposed to learn the actual game of hockey? As of right now, they’re not. They’re fighting boredom because they don’t understand the game (the talented kids are bored scoring 7 goals in a 20minute game, while the less talented kids are bored because they never get the puck), and their parents are fighting to keep these talented kids in “organized hockey”.

    The end result is the better talent is playing travel early & often, and suffering the burnout; or they’re completely quitting to play a sport that’s more encompassing in it’s teaching process. It’s happening all the time in our league. There has to be something more than the beginner’s skills (& resulting boredom) of ADM, especially in such an expensive sport, for our kids who show early commitment, competitiveness, and talent or we’ll continue to lose them.

    My son’s dad swam Division I in college. I was recruited Division I for softball. My daughter will attend college on a Division I rifle scholarship (shooting – like in the Olympics – not twirling), next fall. We are not naive when it comes to the sports’ world, but we feel as if USA Hockey is. The players, parents, and coaches we find who love ADM are the kids who will never make the commitment to even make their high school team. USA Hockey is shuffling talented, committed kids even faster into the burn-out travel system because they are putting a product on the table that is severely lacking in their service to those talented, committed kids. I hope I’m wrong, but I see Team USA U20 getting hammered in IIHF World’s in 10 years because we’re severely lacking in the nuances of the game.

    Let’s skate. Let’s teach hockey. Let’s play hockey. Let’s keep skating and skills lessons where they belong – in the lesson system. As a result, let’s keep the game fun for as long as we can for all the kids who play.

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