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Thursday, January 20, 2011

ADM: A DEEP MYSTERY

Every January at the MAHA Winter Meeting there are several rule change proposals that are voted on to determine whether they will move forward to the Summer Meeting in July for a final vote.

New rule proposals need to be submitted by December 15th to get on the agenda for the January meeting. A majority vote at that meeting keeps the proposal alive and allows for six months of discussion and debate among the membership of the youth hockey community before the final determination in July.

If the early going is any indication, we can be assured of some serious discussion and debate in the coming months. There was plenty of that this past Saturday at this year’s Winter Meeting, along with some gnashing of teeth, some anger and some angst. A little bit of an emotional issue for some for sure. The ADM, the American Development Model. Some think its great and are completely on board. Others, not so much.

This past July a rule change was instituted that established that all mini mite or 6 & Under games would be played on a more age-appropriate ice surface. No more full-ice games for mini mites. If you have ever had a chance to watch a mini mite game, you shouldn’t have to ask why. It looked a little bit like ants sliding around the deck of an aircraft carrier. A little too much space. Not that much action. Nobody in the youth hockey community really seemed to have a problem with the change.

This year there is a proposal on the table to make all Mite or 8 & Under hockey in Michigan be on a smaller ice surface. No more full-ice games. Except for Mite AA hockey, with teams of 8-year olds formed via tryouts, but only if the association had a team at the Mite A or 7-year old level the year prior. The theory being that those kids had played full-ice and it would be unfair for them to “step back” to a smaller ice surface. Ultimately an amendment was made to the proposal to allow all 8-year olds to be able to participate in full-ice games for the coming year only. After that, all 8 & under hockey would be played on a smaller surface.

Consternation and anguish
I completely understand the positions and concerns of the various groups as it relates to this proposal. Change is never easy. It is all that much more difficult if one doesn’t understand it or care to look at it from a different perspective.

Some parents are downright angry about a potential change. They really think that their kids are losing out on something. I get that. But I also can see the other side, where there is an opportunity for the players to get more out of the game.

I guess it really depends on the parent and what they value most and why. I think much of the consternation from parents has to do with the “look” of the game. They think it really doesn’t “look like hockey”. I think that the case could be made, depending on your definition of what hockey looks like, that all Mite hockey doesn’t really look like hockey.

Most parents don’t spend a lot of time watching practices. But they love to watch the games. They love to see their children compete and some really love (maybe too much) when their child’s team wins and get a little too unhappy when the team loses. Maybe they get a little too much into it. That’s not necessarily all that bad. But I do think that some parents think of this potential change more in terms of how it might affect them than how it might affect their child.

The other issue some parents have is that their child is being held back, forced to play with the weaker kids and ultimately having their potential stunted. While I understand that, I also know that there are very few “exceptional” players.

The current system provides a huge potential advantage to the early-maturers and a significant potential disadvantage to kids born later in the year. The bigger, stronger kids get picked at tryouts and given more ice time and the more experienced coaching while the leftovers get what is leftover.

I can really see how a parent of a “pretty good mite player” might have some anguish over what is believed to be a missed opportunity for that child. But I also have been around long enough to know that there are just as many or more early-maturers who flame out when puberty hits. At the end of the day, in terms of “development” for the future, nothing really matters until the kids are in their mid-teens.

All the kids
Some coaches are upset about it. I can understand that viewpoint as well. But I also have a hard time believing someone is coaching “for the right reasons” if they are getting that upset about it. Coaches should be coaching to help out all of the kids. Not just the ones that might show the most potential at 7 or 8 years old mainly because they happened to be the biggest and most mature 7 or 8 year olds.

The coaches who are upset about it are more concerned about the loss of control of their coaching career. A bad coach’s reputation is made or lost based on the players they get to pick at the youngest ages. A good coach will find a way to make all of the players better.

Having coached youth hockey and soccer teams for over ten years and having instructed kids in power skating and hockey skills for over 25 years I can assure parents and coaches that from the players’ perspective a more age-appropriate sized playing surface has significantly more benefits than negatives.

I have seen first-hand the differences in development and enjoyment of the game for the players when they have played on a full-size playing surface at 7 and 8 years old and younger and when they played on a smaller, age-appropriate field. From a developmental standpoint, if that is important to you, a smaller ice surface is definitely a plus.

The unknowns
Some hockey association administrators and rink operators are wondering whether it will be a good thing. Less ice time will be used by the 8 & Under age group. So who will use it? Will more kids participate in the game because the cost to play will be less because more kids are on the ice at the same time? That is one of the tenets of the ADM and if it holds true then in the long run it should pay off. But in the meantime, there is a definitely some risk involved, some unknown, and that is never easy to stomach.

Being familiar with the ADM program and the Long Term Athlete Development concepts, I have a good understanding of what it is all about but I still have questions. And I also wonder whether long-term athletic development should be the greatest priority of a youth sport. Or is it the recreational experience itself? Can we have both?

Which brings me to the players, whose opinion probably matters the most but whose voice is heard the least. But are they in a position to have an opinion at 7 and 8 years old? They don’t know what they don’t know.

Frankly I don’t know that many people really have a good understanding of what the ADM really is, what it really is supposed to look like and what it really is supposed to accomplish. And that is the greatest challenge in all of it.

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