Potential is a fickle thing. Everyone has a certain amount of potential. Yet, there is no guarantee of ever reaching it. Parents, coaches and scouts know this all too well. It is exciting to watch kids and dream about what achievement might be a part of their future. The tough part is figuring how to help them get there.
That is where the American Development Model (ADM) can help. By incorporating principles of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD), ADM allows coaches and parents to utilize age-appropriate training, competition and recovery programming. This allows young athletes to reach their genetic potential in ice hockey and other sports.
By starting with a strong focus on building a foundation of athleticism, ADM prepares children to maximize their potential before it can even be accurately evaluated. This provides every kid with the confidence to pursue a healthy and active life, regardless of if they will have the potential to become an elite athlete.
Not everyone takes a long term view towards capitalizing on potential though. In a society that thrives on immediate results and satisfaction, it isn’t surprising that some want to rush the process.
Effective Development Requires Practice
“The trend today is early specialization in sport,” said USA Hockey Regional ADM Manager, Guy Gosselin. “Our culture drives it, and youth sports drive it.”
Parents, players and coaches promoting early specialization engage in year round training for one sport, often participating on travel teams throughout the standard offseason. The kids involved can end up playing as many as 80-100 games in a single year. Unfortunately, this often leads to players experiencing overuse injuries, burning out or at the very best, reaching their peak at the ages of 15-18.
“For late specialization sports (such as hockey), if you ask the exercise physiologists, things don’t come together physically and mentally until you are around 21-22 years-old,” said Gosselin, who participated on the US Men’s Hockey Olympic team in 1988 and was an alternate captain in 1992. “We are seeing NHL caliber hockey players just coming into their own at 25-26.”
The recognition and acceptance of hockey as a late specialization sport is a key component for the supporters of the ADM because the focus becomes long term athlete development (LTAD) instead of immediate results. With LTAD as its foundation, the ADM emphasizes a 3:1 practice to game ratio through Squirts and into Peewees.
A practice or training based program provides significantly more opportunities for skill development for players than one that primarily offers games. Practices provide players with more repetitions in every facet of the game, allowing them to improve their skating, shooting, stick handling and other skills at a faster rate.
“The average puck time is between 30 and 40 seconds per game for a Peewee player,” said Gosselin. “Whereas, if you did a quality, activity based practice they are getting ten times that amount in a practice as far as skill development goes.”
The ADM further capitalizes on the benefits of practice by splitting the ice into stations. With a station based model, 30-40 kids can be on the ice during the same practice with all of them participating in drills on a nearly continuous basis. This approach maximizes ice usage, repetitions, skill development and most importantly, fun.
With a heavy dose of practices and a reduction in the number of games, some have expressed a concern that the ADM fails to teach kids the valuable lessons of competition. After all, what good would it do to create a highly talented athlete if he or she doesn’t know how to win 1-on-1 battles or perform when the game is on the line?
“It is natural,” said Gosselin about teaching kids how to compete. “If someone throws a puck down between you and I, we would certainly compete for it. The competitive nature is a great part of the game, and it comes quite naturally.”
In addition to that, the ADM promotes a substantial amount of competitive type drills in practices. Small area games force players to compete in a tight area, which increases the likelihood of body contact and places a premium on decision making skills.
“NHL teams spend a lot of time playing small area games, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 competition,” said Gosselin. “I have slides in my presentation of the Pittsburgh Penguins playing three zone cross ice.”
Just like it is important to have an offseason and play other sports, the right balance is crucial when it comes to games and practices. The ADM may encourage fewer games compared to AAA travel teams, but that doesn’t mean it leaves out critical elements of the game like competition. They are simply presented in a more age-appropriate and development-oriented mindset.
When it comes to ADM, every component is in place for a reason.
“This isn’t somebody sitting in the office thinking, ‘Hey, this is a good idea’,” said Gosselin. “The people (exercise physiologists and child development specialists) that develop this stuff do this for a living, 24/7. There are numerous national governing bodies that implement LTAD models. It absolutely is an elite model.“
Being an elite model doesn’t just mean it is the best way to develop elite hockey players. Rather, the ADM is designed to maximize every player’s potential, whether that player is destined for NHL All Star Game or the recreational levels of Adult Hockey.
As Development Manager of Talent and Potential for England Golf, Stuart Armstrong, puts it, “LTAD is not an initiative but rather a philosophy which works from Playground to Professional.”