While the female game of ice hockey has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our challenges continue to outweigh the existing opportunities. As the American Development Model continues to gain momentum throughout the hockey community, it will play an instrumental role in helping us meet these challenges head on.
ADM was created for two key reasons: to improve the overall hockey experience for all involved in the game, and to provide a conduit to excellence for those with exceptional ability.
Using the Long Term Athlete Development principles, ADM focuses on creating an environment (on and off the ice) to help every player reach his or her genetic potential by implementing age-appropriate training and competition regimens.
In 1990 the women’s game experienced an international breakthrough with eight countries participating in the first IIHF women’s world championship. At that time there were slightly more than 6,000 registered female hockey players in the United States and approximately 15 varsity collegiate female programs. Now, 20 years later, there are approximately 60,000 registered females, 37 collegiate club programs, 86 NCAA Div. I and III programs, and numerous international high-performance events, led by the Olympics.
There is no doubt that over the past 20 years an abundant amount of opportunities have been created for females in the game of hockey. Back in the early 1990s, well before our women’s team won the first-ever gold medal in women’s Olympic ice hockey, you were one of the lucky few if you played on an all-girls’ youth hockey team. Few associations had enough girls in their ranks to field all-girls’ teams at any level, which left girls having to play on boys’ teams. Today, more associations are providing opportunities for girls to play on all-girls’ teams at all age levels.
In addition, elite female players now have the same opportunities as their male counterparts by participating in USA Hockey player development camps during the summer. USA Hockey also provides a national tournament and showcases for Tier I, Tier II and senior woman at multiple age levels.
This all sounds great, right? Well, not exactly. Without question women’s hockey has come a long way (in a relatively short period of time), but we still have plenty of room for improvement in the development of our players and the growth of the game.
One of ADM’s current priorities is player retention. Nationally, 53 percent of 8 & Under female players do not advance to the 10 & Under level of play. In 2008-09, USAH registered 12,876 female players in the 4- to 8-year-old range. The following season in 2009-10, USA Hockey had 13,798 registered. Unfortunately, only 6,649 out of the 12,876 4- to 8-year-old female players returned to the game in 2009-10, meaning that more than half of those girls left the game of hockey.
The million dollar question is why? The USA Hockey Membership Development Depart- ment has been studying all possible reasons.
To start with, we need to provide more opportunities for females to play with other females their own age, and we need to be creative within our associations to create an environment for the female athletes to not only compete but to thrive. Girls are social beings and need to have fun with their peers.
The ultimate goal is to create structure within all associations for female players ages 4 to 19. If we can create a mindset within our associations to focus on growing the game and retaining these young players it will build an ideal club structure for all players. Imagine a system that allows players to play within their local associations from initiation through graduation, and beyond.
A number of associations seem to be focused on retaining the AAA player, but studies show it is impossible to know if these young players will enjoy future success. Our current system irrationally leaves kids behind. That’s where the ADM comes into play.
USA Hockey, with the support of the NHL, is investing the staffing and funding needed to move our hockey programs forward.
Overall the message is we need to get more females playing, and loving the game.
Mark Johnson, 1980 Olympian and 2010 Women’s Olympic coach, stressed daily the importance of enjoying the journey. The process needs to be worth it, regardless of whether you win or lose. If it is not fun it is not worth it. Sometimes fun takes a lot of hard work, but regardless of the outcome you will walk away a better person and a better athlete.
Female hockey has come a long way since the days when I used to play. There are so many opportunities already for females to compete successfully. But it’s important that we don’t rest on our laurels. We need to continue to expand these opportunities so that every girl who wants to play will have an opportunity to do so.