As a proponent of the American Development Model, I was disappointed last summer when my area league failed to adopt the cross- or half-ice format for Mites.
Like any paradigm shift, there will be resistance on the part of the establishment. In this case, coaches, rinks, leagues and state associations have to assess where, when and how to implement these changes.
USA Hockey has done virtually all they could do to educate the entire community on the indisputable benefits of the ADM. Without support on the grass-roots level, this change will take longer than necessary, and our future players will suffer for it.
So, what is a coach to do when forced to play Mites in a full-ice format? In our case, my assistants and I chose to stick to the guidelines of the ADM. We established with our parents that our game record was irrelevant to our goals for the season. Naturally, there were questions and concerns.
Going into the season, our team was already one of the youngest, smallest and definitely the least experienced with the full-ice format. We decided to acknowledge our underdog role and everyone – from the players to the parents and siblings – embraced it.
So, we embarked on our season focusing on the ABC’S (Agility, Balance, Coordination & Speed), encouraging legal body contact through small area games and letting the ice be the teacher. Our practices often look very different from some of the teams with whom we share the ice. One-on-one battles, obstacle courses and soccer games prevail over lines, practicing set plays and passing drills (no Mite likes these).
The one exception we have made, in the interest of the full-ice games, was to teach offsides. This is incorporated into virtually every practice as one of our stations.
You see, what we lacked in full-ice experience, we made up for with a full year of ADM “Minor Mite” experience for most of our team. When we showed up for our first game of the season some parents from the opposing team asked, “Are you guys a Mite team, or Minor Mite?” We walked out of the rink with a 5-2 win and comments from those same parents of, “Boy, your guys can really skate!”
By sticking to the guidelines set forth by USA Hockey, our young players are able to incorporate lessons from the ice more easily because they’re more comfortable on it than some of their non-ADM peers, especially when body contact comes into play. We have fun on the ice and encouragement precedes or accompanies any correction.
In the interest of full disclosure, we did incorporate off-ice practices to walk through some basic positioning, in lieu of utilizing our precious ice time. Our team has one offensive “play.” It’s called 1-2-3 and it stands for puck, crease, slot – in that order.
When on defense, our players move in pairs and know the landmarks of where to center the puck and where to dump it deeper. The only goal in the defensive zone is to get the puck out. This is literally all the positional teaching that we’ve done.
Every off-ice session begins and ends with game play as well. Verbal instruction and walk-through positioning is limited to 25 minutes per session. By taking the kids off the ice, condensing the playing surface and still incorporating play time into these sessions, the lessons have translated very effectively on the ice.
Recently, our team suffered its first loss of the season in the championship game of a holiday tournament. I worried about how hard the kids would take it, or if the lesson in humility would be good for them. There were some tears and definitely some disappointment, both of which were remedied when the first boy realized the runner-up medals were also a hologram.
These are 6- to 8-year-old kids ... don’t over-think it. Trust that the body of knowledge and experience assembled by USA Hockey knows more than you do. Be an ambassador for the game and the lessons it teaches. If you’re on the bench this year, you’ve completed the age-appropriate modules. Everyone is taking them because everyone will adopt the ADM. It’s a matter of when, not if.
Embrace the change, even if your home rink or league hasn’t. You’ll still be competitive at the very least and your players will be better off in the long run.
Please know that I share this experience not as evidence of my coaching prowess, but as an encouraging example for other coaches who believe in the ADM. I bring zero organized playing experience to the rink, but what I did have is a true love of the game.
Just because your league hasn’t fully adopted the ADM doesn’t mean you can’t fully implement its principles.