It is Sunday night. You have just gotten home from your son or daughter’s hockey game in a nearby town and are ready to enjoy what is left of the weekend. As you settle into your favorite chair, it is time to look over the folder of news and events that come home from school every weekend. Gradually, a plan starts to form for the week ahead.
Monday: Hockey practice
Tuesday: Hockey practice & watch HS game
Wednesday: Night off
Thursday: Hockey practice & parent-teacher conferences
Friday: Leave work early and travel to next weekend’s tournament location
The week ahead is looking pretty full already. Compared to many families, this may be walk in the park. Then, there are other factors - more than one child, additional sports or practice times, work schedules, long commutes, day care, possibility of one parent families, etc. - one week can get complicated in a hurry. Parents know this and take time to plan ahead on how to handle these challenges, often looking forward to when they have a night free of any requirements.
Now, try adding coaching responsibilities to that list.
Parents aren’t alone in using planning to overcome the challenge of a packed schedule. With how much coaches have to teach their players over the course of a season and the limited amount of ice time available, coaches need to engage in a similar planning process. Periodization, which is the practice of segmenting the calendar year into appropriate time intervals for preparation, competition, rest and recovery, can help.
“Before each season, coaches should ask themselves two questions,” says Christian Koelling, USA Hockey Minnesota District Coach-in-Chief. “What are we trying to accomplish? How are we going to get there?”
It may not be realistic at the youth level to employ full scale periodization the way coaches and trainers do at elite levels. The basic theory can still be applied by planning each week or practice with the perspective of how it fits into the season and the team’s goals for the season, not just in the context of the prior weekend’s games.
“Having that long term or season plan in place is really important,” asserts Koelling. “It helps maintain progress towards what you want to achieve while also allowing for some flexibility. It may take extra work the first year, but if you save those plans, each year it will get easier.”
Periodization can help parents and coaches maintain priorities, such as addressing windows of trainability, over the course of the season. In addition to practice plans, it is critical that time for rest and recovery is scheduled for young athletes.
“I think a common misunderstanding is that more is better,” points out Koelling. “People forget how important it is to have time off. There is a reason the NCAA mandates time off. It is hard to believe some youth players are getting less time to recover than Division I athletes.”
Practice to Game Ratio
An important component of every training regimen is the practice to game ratio. Throughout a player’s maturation and development, the ratio may fluctuate but is always vital to maximizing his or her potential.
“When you look at practice to game ratio, we really push for 3:1 at the younger ages, all the way up through squirts,” states Terry Evavold, Vice President of Hockey Operations for Minnesota Hockey. “Peewees and bantams can be more toward the 2:1.”
Placing extra weight on practice time during the early periods of development accomplishes two important tasks. Without realizing it, players are engrained with a more internally motivated and process driven passion for the game than when competition is the focal point. At the same time, it maximizes repetitions and skill development when it is the most important.
“The emphasis on practice situations is critical to capitalizing on the periods of accelerated skill development,” stresses Evavold. “If coaches focused less on systems and competition, putting it more on fun and development, we would see a lot more success, in all senses of the word.”
This isn’t to say coaches should eliminate all competition and completely adopt the “everyone gets a medal” philosophy. Rather, the point is that coaches are missing out on optimal windows of trainability because they are spending too much time on systems which kids can easily pick up later on.
“Practice should be fun, but that can be through competition. In fact, it should be through competition,” expresses Evavold. “Look at schools today; they have made learning fun again by incorporating technology. Hockey coaches can do the same with practice.”
“The core of long term athlete development and the ADM is really just common sense,” maintains Koelling. “In the past, our traditions occasionally got in the way of common sense.”
The American Development Model (ADM) provides several tips on how coaches can accelerate the development of all kids including: age appropriate training, higher practice to game ratios, avoiding early specialization by allowing participation in multiple sports, building athleticism, understanding the differences between chronological and biological age, increasing activity levels and repetitions, etc. Above all of these, the number one principle to remember is to instill a passion for the game.
“If it’s not fun, then don’t do it,” insists Evavold. “If it’s not fun, do you think they will play again next year? I wouldn’t.”
Despite everything parents and coaches have to balance, there is always room for fun.
Play, love, excel. That’s the ADM.
This is the final article in a four part series to provide coaches, administrators, parents, and players a better understanding of the principles of ADM and LTAD. For more information, visit admkids.com or minnesotahockey.org.