For the last four years, Zack Doyen has served as the hockey director for Orchard Lake United (OLU), the first USA Hockey Model Association.
Doyen oversees all hockey operations for the association’s 13 teams. That means occasionally hearing about the misconceptions associated with USA Hockey’s American Development Model, and cross-ice hockey at the 8U level, as the Orchard Lake association has been a pioneer and leader in USA Hockey’s teaching philosophies.
Here are some of the most-discussed misconceptions Doyen, a former NCAA Division III player for Salem State, has dealt with during his time with OLU:
Misconception 1: The kids will get bored
More practices than games? A smaller space to play in? Won’t the kids will get bored?
“If you want to see a kid who’s not having fun, who’s bored and wants to quit hockey, you can see about 75 percent of them in full-ice games, when they’re not touching the puck and they’re staring into the crowd,” said Doyen, who played for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, the high school that owns OLU’s home rink. “When they’re playing cross-ice and the puck’s coming by them or they’re scoring, getting more touches or making more saves, all you see is them smiling and having a really good time. Whether it’s scoring goals, making saves or just getting those extra touches, those are game-changers.
“I coach our ’03 team at OLU as well, and I almost need to leave the rink when I see kids playing in full-ice situations at other facilities. You can just see it, they’re not getting the puck, they’re not touching it, they’re not doing much. Seeing the amount of activity and the amount of movement that our kids get [with the ADM], it’s awesome. I’m a huge believer in it for sure.”
Misconception 2: They need to be learning systems
When you’re sitting in the stands, it’s easy to see how a player may have had more success if they were in a different position on the ice. Teaching systems isn’t important at young ages of play, however – the players won’t remember them anyways.
“Kids, they don’t retain the information on systems,” Doyen said. “This is their time to learn and refine the basic skills, get comfortable on the ice and have fun. That’s what matters at this age. Their skill-development time is limited and valuable. Don’t waste it teaching systems. They can learn their systems and how to forecheck later, around the age of 13 or so. That’s when it really sticks with them. Getting these young kids to learn skills, even skills like how to fall down and get up quick, bumping into each other, all that stuff is great for their long-term development as a player.”
Misconception 3: Winning should be a priority
Everyone has more fun when the final score reads in your favor, right? Doyen pointed out that kids are well aware of the situation if the coach shortens the bench in crunch time, and it hinders both development and enjoyment of the game.
“Just to feel part of a team, that’s important, and just to know that you’re as involved as everyone else – even though they’re young kids, they realize that,” Doyen said. “When you emphasize individual skill development and having fun instead of the outcome, it’s a game-changer for the young kids. A lot of parents, a lot of kids even, they start to put too much emphasis on winning and losing and what that score is, which leads to shortening the bench and then certain kids don’t get to play and develop. It can really put a damper on a kid in his or her development and wanting to come back and play. Kids are smart, they understand that, ‘Oh, that kid gets to go out two or three times every time I go out once,’ and they realize that and it’s no fun for them.”
Misconception 4: You shouldn’t play other sports
The notion that playing other sports takes away from valuable time at the rink hinders hockey development – both mentally and physically.
“You build skills and athleticism by playing other sports, and that’s going to help you in the long run by just being an athlete, which will help you on the ice,” Doyen said. “By playing other sports and doing other stuff, it does get you away from the rink a little bit. And that’s valuable, too. Some parents just want to get their kid from one rink to another rink to another rink, and halfway through the season, the kid’s losing focus, they’re tired, they’re showing up less and less because it’s becoming a burden to get to the rink all the time.
“When they come in with a fresh mindset and fresh everything, they come out there and they’re ready to go and this is their time to play hockey and it benefits them tremendously. It gets them more interested in the hockey season, because they know this is their time to play hockey.”
Misconception 5: Players need to develop on a full sheet
Numerous studies show the small-ice hockey is a more efficient, more effective way to develop players’ skills and push them toward a higher ceiling of potential. It’s age-appropriate and age-specific. Doyen has seen firsthand the benefits of OLU’s ADM adoption, as the first groups of players are now thriving.
“We actually have a pretty cool story at OLU where we see all of our age groups developing so much. [ADM Regional Manager] Bob Mancini started it all here with USA Hockey. We have kids who played here, who started with this cross-ice stuff, and now they’re getting looked at by college teams.
“A lot of these kids from OLU are now playing high-end travel hockey. They started this way, they started by playing cross-ice hockey and they were able to develop their skills and now you’re really starting to see it pay off long-term. That’s one thing I try to bring up at coaches’ meetings – this is proven right here, you get them started and you get them excited about hockey, you work on the basics and in the long run, it’s a great way to start them off.”