The Spirit of St. Louis

NHL Hall Of Famer Gives His Full Support To ADM As He Coaches The Next Generation

Martin St. Louis has hoisted the Stanley Cup above his head and had an Olympic gold medal draped around his neck during a Hall of Fame playing career.

Yet, in his current hockey role, winning has become much more of an afterthought. 

In the five years since he retired from the National Hockey League, St. Louis has coached in the Connecticut-based Mid-Fairfield Youth Hockey Association. He has worked with youngsters from 8U to 18U, depending on the age groups in which his sons Ryan, Lucas and Mason have played.

And he has embraced the principles of the American Development Model, which emphasizes athletic and personal growth over scoreboard results.

"A lot of youth coaches get caught up in thinking 'We didn't do that well in the game, so we have to teach this or that so we can win the next game,' instead of staying the course and working on what's important at those ages-the skills," said the 44-year-old St. Louis, who racked up 1,033 points in 1,134 games in an NHL career that spanned 1998 to 2015 and included stops in Calgary, Tampa Bay and with the New York Rangers. 

"You can definitely teach some team awareness in the locker room between periods on the chalkboard when you have time to regroup. But, at the end of the day, you want to teach the kids to play instinctively, instead of telling them they have to be here or they have to be there on the ice. You want to invest your time in development at a young age instead of wasting time in practice by working on team-oriented systems."

In the results-oriented world of modern youth sports, winning often takes precedence over long-term development. And coaches who previously played at elite levels-whether it's in the NHL or NCAA Div. I-believe in the systems that resulted in winning.

But, while a neutral zone trap might produce a trophy today, players who grow up in an ADM environment position themselves for greater opportunities tomorrow. And, while not all youth players move on to higher levels, coaches who promote development in a fun environment create a life-long enjoyment of the sport.

"Sometimes, it's difficult for all of us when we get out of a culture of playing at a high level or coaching at a high level to get back to what young kids should be doing," said Roger Grillo, an ADM regional manager who played and coached at the NCAA Div. I level.  

"Once you look at it closely and experience it a little bit and you understand the thoughts and philosophy behind the ADM, it resonates with a lot of former players who are now coaching. It brings them back to the situation they were in as young players and, to be honest with you, a lot of it is just common sense."

Developed by USA Hockey in 2009 and endorsed by the NHL and others, the ADM focuses on age-appropriate training-including a lighter-weight puck, smaller nets and cross-ice play instead of using an entire sheet of ice at the younger age levels. USA Hockey provides a blueprint for youth associations across the country to help more children play, love and excel in the sport while developing character off the ice.

The ADM also outlines ways for associations to make the most efficient use of ice time while engaging young players. 

"The biggest thing is the reps," said St. Louis, who grew up in Quebec and played at the University of Vermont. "With old-school practices, you would wait in line to do a drill. For me the whole ADM and the station-based stuff is about the touches and the reps.

"At a young, young age, skill acquisition is so important, and I don't think there's any better way to do that than to have stations and not have the kids wait in line."

St. Louis prefers the waiting portion of the equation to relate to systems play. 

"The old-school way is to teach them how to play hockey," he said. "Nowadays, you have to be able to teach them the skills to be able to play hockey when they get older. It's not about having a breakout or a forecheck or a power play ... it's about learning your edges, forehand-backhand, stickhandling and having your eyes up as much as possible. 

"If you teach them systems at a young age, they might never get to use those concepts. They might never even get there if you don't take care of the most important stuff."

St. Louis' oldest son appreciates his father's patient approach to coaching. Ryan St. Louis simply enjoyed playing the game and earned a roster spot with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program this season.

"It's all about development, and he doesn't really care about the wins and losses," Ryan said of his father's coaching philosophy. "He just wants every player on his team to get better and gain something from having him as a coach. And he makes it a lot of fun."

The ADM principles certainly suit the style St. Louis embraced in going from an undrafted college free agent to a member of the 2018 class for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"The ADM is very similar to his path as a player," said Grillo, who coached St. Louis at the University of Vermont. "He's really into the decision-making part of the game, the visual part of the game and the creativity part of the game.

"There are a lot of former NHL players out there who believe in it. They understand the importance of creating a culture for kids to grow and have the opportunity to get where they want to go and doing things the right way." 

Jim Leitner is a freelance writer based in Dubuque, Iowa.






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