Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Hockey's Profound Message To Youth Coaches
by Harry Cummins
This past weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia, the best international under-20 men's ice hockey tournament on the planet came to a conclusion. The final game participants from the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships should reverberate to the very foundations of youth sports everywhere.
Finland captured its third gold medal in the last six years of this event, defeating the United States 3-2, as the Americans have now made seven podium appearances in the last ten years. Such repeated success, when studied further, may unlock the secret to player development that every sport is seeking.
Dave Starman, a member of the coaching education program with USA Hockey, explained to the NY Times recently how the game of ice hockey is being reshaped. "We now play a lot more 3-on-3, 2-on-2, where younger kids are touching the puck more, they're in an environment where they are going to have more fun and be more involved," he said. "Not only are they going to have more fun and want to come back, they're going to get better because they are constantly involved in the play."
Not surprisingly, Starman says the emphasis is identical in Finland. "A lot of Finish parents and their organizations don't care who wins the average game by shortening a bench so they can win a game," he said. "Their players play and they use their bench. They believe in player development."
The results of these restructuring principles are surfacing in the National Hockey League, where Jack Hughes, a 17 year old forward on this year's USA squad, is now projected to be the number 1 pick in June's draft. In the 2016 NHL draft, 3 players from Finland were selected in the top 5 picks.
I received an e-mail this morning from a long-time friend in Colorado with added evidence of how this approach works in real time. His young son was languishing on the bench of his recreation league basketball team, but is now blossoming, just months later, under the tutelage of a new coach and increased playing time.
Of course, few young players ever reach the pinnacle of their chosen activity, and the societal pressure to win makes this philosophy exceedingly more difficult to execute at higher levels. It is no small thing, however, to establish the groundwork for happier, more confident human beings prepared to go about the rest of the lives still under a firmament of play.
So heads-up to every youth coach in America. Empty your bench and take pride that you, indeed, may help produce the Next Great Ones.