The wider the base, the taller the pyramid. It’s a concept as old as the Egyptians and as solid as the Sphinx.
Herb Brooks talked about it whenever he brought up the development of future generations of American hockey players. Still, there was no way the architect of the “Miracle on Ice” could have imagined how far the sport has advanced since the advent of the American Development Model.
When it was unveiled in 2009, the plan was to slowly introduce it at the grass-roots level and build it from the ground up. That meant focusing on the development of hockey at the 8 & Under level.
The cornerstone of the effort was the implementation of cross-ice hockey, which creates a more age-appropriate playing surface for younger players. The smaller ice sheet affords players more opportunities to touch the puck and enjoy the thrill of scoring goals. Along with improved fun came better skill development, which provides a solid foundation for the future.
But, a funny thing happened over the course of the first five years of the program’s existence. The ADM became synonymous with Mite cross-ice hockey, and the push to expand the program onward and upward never gained much traction.
“Because we launched the American Development Model at the 8 & Under level, people assume that it’s all cross-ice hockey. And it’s not,” says ADM Regional Manager Bob Mancini.
“The ADM is a comprehensive plan of development that starts from the ages of 8 & Under and goes all the way through 18 & Under.
“The message that I want to give to parents is to take a look at the ADM and understand that it really is about delivering to your child what’s important at each age group.”
Now that a strong foundation has been laid, it’s time to raise the roof. That’s why, heading into the 2014-15 season, there will be a shift in the approach Mancini and other ADM regional managers will take as they hit rinks around the country touting the benefits of long-term athlete development and age-appropriate training.
“As we’ve committed to this development model at the younger ages, it’s time to put a little bit more of the focus on making sure there’s quality training and quality practices for our older kids,” says Roger Grillo, an ADM regional manager who covers the New England states.
“If you’re going to go upstairs, you have to have a furnished bedroom. You can’t set the stage at the bottom and have nothing to go to.”
To be clear, the core principles of the ADM are not changing. The program’s managers and local volunteer coordinators remain committed to the sports science. All they’re doing is broadening the focus to take aim at the Squirt and Peewee levels in an effort to capitalize on the “golden age of skill acquisition.”
“Part of our goal this year is to get out and say, ‘Squirts and Peewees, this is not just a Mite thing; it’s an evolution all the way up to Bantams and Midgets,’” says ADM Regional Manager Matt Herr, who covers the New York and Atlantic Districts. “It’s age-appropriate training at all levels, and if you do this then your kid can reach their potential.”
There are still small pockets of resistance that exist around the country, but critics and skeptics pale in comparison to the number of parents who have bought into the ADM and demand to see it adopted as their sons and daughters progress up the ladder of development.
“PART OF OUR GOAL
“It’s gaining momentum quicker than we ever thought it would, and for people who have experienced well-run ADM programs, there’s no way they’ll accept anything less,” says Kevin McLaughlin, USA Hockey’s senior director of development who oversees the program.
The wave of momentum that started with Mites will only grow as more people buy into the ADM and understand that it is a program designed to help the individual, whether he or she is 8 or 18. The science behind the program is irrefutable as is the commitment of USA Hockey and the NHL to see it continue to grow.
The first five years were devoted to changing a culture and creating a mindset that puts the athlete’s development ahead of simply playing games. With the base of the pyramid firmly in place, it is now time to see how high it can grow.
“We still have some challenges ahead of us, but I think the ADM as a whole has been very well received and people have bought into it,” Grillo says.
“It’s just a matter of fine tuning it and tweaking it, and putting out some brushfires that are out there around the country. I think we’re in a great spot, but we’ll be in a better spot down the road.”