Mite Hockey Choices - You Make the Call!
For most eight-and-under (Mite) hockey players, the season is over and players have moved on to baseball and soccer. For many parents, it is a time to reflect back on one of the first years of hockey, what was learned, new skills developed and fun with new friends along the way. However, for some it is already time to look ahead, and parents are being asked to make choices about what to do next season and what path to take for their budding young hockey player’s development. Before you make a choice for next season, I would like to give you some background on the options you will be asked to consider. Next year, the choice will be better defined than ever as MAHA and USA Hockey now requires all of our programs to be compliant with the American Development Model (ADM). The ADM is considered to be a world-class long-term athlete development program for hockey players.
We think you want the best programs for your children and we want what is best for them too, which is why we are fully embracing the program next season. It is possible, you will be asked by other parents or coaches to choose a development model or program outside of USA Hockey. While it is certainly your choice, we want you to be informed about why we have been transitioning to this new development program over the last 5 years and the benefits of the program to your child. We hope, before you make a choice to leave the MAHA and USA Hockey family, you will look at some of the research and scientific data that back our program and make the call that is best for your young hockey player and your family.
In 2009, USA Hockey announced the launch of the American Development Model with the endorsement and the financial backing by the NHL. The ADM is simply a long-term athlete development program that provides a development and skill progression from the youngest age level (Mites) through the oldest age level (Midgets). When initially announced, AAA clubs at the oldest age levels were clamoring to be part of the program and attain a designation of “High Performance Club” designating them as premiere development program by USA Hockey. Instead, USA Hockey rightly decided that this program should begin at the youngest age levels and work its way up the ladder rather than the other way around. You see, if you have not built a strong foundation of skills at the youngest levels, it is hard to do remedial skill training at the oldest age levels. This is no different than if you don’t learn basic math facts in grade school, it is pretty hard to do advanced algebra in high school.
That same year, USA Hockey began to launch an educational program for coaches, parents and administrators to teach them about the program and expose them to the research behind the program that was performed by world-class trainers, nutritionists, doctors and physiologists from around the world. They hired some of the best coaches and teachers to go out to the local programs and teach coaches, parents and players about the program and show them how to make it successful in their area.
The leadership of Michigan Amateur Hockey studied the program, attended meetings where experts from around the world spoke about the science and research behind the program and how it would improve athlete development process here in the U.S. We were convinced that this was the best program for our young hockey players and began to try and transition all our associations toward this program so they could bring a higher level of development to their participants.
Change is never easy and it became clear early on that many were stuck in their old ways and would not make any changes without some encouragement. MAHA created a program of education, implemented incentives for associations to get the proper equipment to run the program, and allowed a combination of the old program and the new program to try to ease folks into the new way. Some areas of the state did not wait. They saw the benefits for their athletes and jumped on board 100%. They never looked back.
The change created division in our association and many felt we were limiting choice instead of looking at it from the perspective that we were trying to encourage and endorse a superior development program for players. Many who have profited from the old system did not wish to change. Arenas and paid coaches found the change especially tough as the new program required less ice per player and more of a group coaching approach.
The Metro Detroit area became a battleground with many of these affected groups defaming the ADM at the Mite level with the promise of full-ice games, full-ice practices and “real” hockey in their terms. The divide between a scientifically based athlete development program and keeping the game the same created a lot of animosity in the hockey community.
Over time parents and coaches have become more educated about the ADM and it has gained more acceptance. In September of 2013, USA Hockey mandated that all eight-and-under hockey should be played on reduced playing surfaces. Fortunately those affiliates, such as Michigan, that were not 100% compliant yet were given the ability to ask for more time to get in full compliance by providing annual transition plans showing progress toward the goal. Today, over 65% of the USA Hockey affiliates are in full compliance and many others are very close.
As Michigan continued to provide an avenue for local associations to transition to the program, some perceived that meant we did not 100% believe in the program. That could not have been farther from the truth. We believe that the old ways hinders a player’s development, causes players to leave the game at a young age because they don’t develop enough skill to make the game fun, and drives the cost of the sport up creating a higher barrier to entry at the youngest age levels.
Were now five years into the transition and over 70% of our associations are 100% on board, and all are participating at some level. Our association feels that it is time to fully embrace the reduced ice surface games for the eight-and-under age group. Any player who started under the old system has now moved up to other levels of hockey. Our leadership has consistently said we believe the program is superior and we are seeing those results in clubs that adopted the program at its inception. They are seeing tremendous skill improvement at the Squirt level and experiencing continued growth of their programs.
The debate will continue, but for next season there will be a clear choice. MAHA will fully endorse the ADM program at the eight-and-under age group next season and will not seek any further exceptions from USA Hockey. It is time to show parents that we back the ADM 100% and that it is a far superior program. You as parents will still have a choice, as the other folks that promote full-ice will probably not be going away. However, we hope you choose our program for your young player, as we believe it is the best. But don’t just take our word for it, do your own research. To get you started, click here for some additional information, links to other articles and some video clips we think you will find informative. But don’t just stop there, we encourage you to do your own research and also look outside hockey too and look at other youth sports that are implementing long-term athlete development programs. Look at some of the similarities to what we are doing in hockey. And lastly, as you do your research, try and find scientific studies backed by research that show full-ice hockey is better for eight-year-olds. I don’t think you will be able to find anything along those lines other than some amateur coaches or administrator opinions.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long letter. I hope it has helped you see a clearer picture of the Mite hockey discussion that has been going on for the last few years here in Michigan. It has always been about your freedom of choice. We wanted our associations to give you better choices and provide what we feel is the best hockey programming for young hockey players. To do that we had to set higher standards and guidelines to get some of our associations and coaches to participate. We hope that you will see what we are offering will give your child the best chance to reach their full potential as a hockey player and develop as an athlete. We hope that you will continue to choose our programs as we will always strive to offer only what we feel is the best development program for young athletes in our programs.
I know that we are talking about very young players and all this controversy may seem ridiculous, but…it is a very important, once in a lifetime opportunity to develop these players’ age-appropriate skills and love of the game. Good luck and ask questions.
Michigan Amateur Hockey Association