There is no denying that the women’s game has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. As I touched upon in the last issue, where once we had 6,000 registered female players, we now have more than 60,000. In addition, our collegiate programs have enjoyed the same kind of rapid growth with more than 86 varsity programs and another 37 college club teams.
There are also numerous IIHF sanctioned events, including Women’s and U18 Women’s World Championships, that allow women from 48 countries to represent their respective countries on international ice.
Over the years, the United States has enjoyed great success on the international arena, but the reality remains that only a select few earn the privilege of representing our country. That means for most the pinnacle of women’s hockey remains competing at the college level.
There are currently approximately 468 “full-ride” hockey scholarships offered to females every four years, not including opportunities that will be created by Penn State and Lindenwood University who are both in the process of adding women’s hockey programs.
Twenty-six of the 34 Div. I programs offer 18 full scholarships in a four-year span, averaging 4.5 scholarships a year and netting roughly 117 scholarships per season. Out of the 34 Div. I programs (2009-10), 40.4 percent of the players were non-Americans.
With 40 percent of our player pool being non-Americans this means 47 scholarships are being offered to Canadians and Europeans while 70 are given out to the select few American players. During the 2010 Frozen Four only 40 out of 83 players that participated on the four teams were American. That’s less than 50 percent.
While opening the doors to the U.S. college game provides opportunities for other countries to improve their respective programs, it takes opportunities away from American girls.
It’s become increasingly apparent that we need to produce more elite players for our college programs so that more of those scholarships go to American players, and our elite level players can continue to grow with the game at the highest levels. That not only makes our grass-roots programs stronger by giving more girls a goal to strive for, but it helps our National and Olympic teams by increasing our talent pool from which to choose.
This past summer, 76 of our best female Select 17 players were invited to a one-week development camp. At the end of the week coaches and National Team scouts were asked to rank these players. Out of the 76 attendees less than a third of the players were considered to have Div. I potential. The sad reality is that we need to do a better job of developing high caliber players.
In the last issue I discussed a laundry list of how the ADM can specifically impact the women’s game. Another major focus that needs to be addressed is improving the quality of girls coaching, especially with the youngest age groups.
Emphasizing fundamental development before sport-specific success is essential. Spending more time on skill development and less time traveling hundreds of miles for competition is essential. The win-at-all-costs attitude also weakens the process and in the end hurts players’ chances of reaching their genetic potential.
We all know instant success is not possible. A process-oriented system built around age appropriate training will increase the likelihood for growth and the true development of all players.
As coaches, hockey directors, parents and USA Hockey administrators, it is our obligation to do what’s best for the kids in the game. It’s important to have coaches come to the rink every practice and game with passion and with the goal of developing every player.
Coaching is more than just X’s and O’s. Effective coaching requires a commitment to development and understanding methods for maximizing every athlete’s mental and physical potential. If this is the focus the athlete will win in all aspects of the game and in life.
Overall the message is we need to get more females playing the game and loving the game. There are so many opportunities already for females to compete successfully and those will continue to grow.
The goal of the ADM is to develop well-rounded athletes that have both the skills and passion to play hockey for life. USA Hockey, in conjunction with the NHL, is investing manpower and financial means into the ADM movement. We have seven regional managers and one director whose daily focus is on the youth player and how the American Development model can best guide their development.
These individuals are in place to visit your associations to run age-appropriate practices and present on the ADM philosophy to parents and coaches to help educate them on the proper development for their athletes.
The ADM is not a revolutionary program. It is a return to a simpler time when kids were encouraged to be kids, to play the game for the fun of it and to enjoy the journey one day at a time. The key elements are in place for USA Hockey to raise the bar when it comes to the growth and development of the female game. It’s up to all of us to take that next step.