BOSTON -- More than 500 youth coaches from all over New England — even Canada — traveled to Boston’s TD Garden for a coaching symposium hosted by the Bruins last Saturday.
The free event, which was open to USA Hockey-certified coaches and current amateur coaches, featured 10 expert speakers — the Bruins’ coaching staff among them — who talked about everything from how to put the fun in fundamentals for the younger players to advice on strength and conditioning for the older kids.
“It was a great day of coaching education,” said Mike Dargin, Bruins’ manager of youth hockey development, who organized the event along with USA Hockey. “This is the third time for a youth coaching symposium in Boston — the others in 2009 and 2011 — but we’re hoping to turn it into an annual event.”
The purpose of coaching symposiums, which have been held all over the country in conjunction with NHL teams in places such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York and Tampa, is to help grow and develop the game of hockey and emphasize the American Development Model. The ADM was implemented in 2009 to help change the culture of youth hockey in the United States by using a system of age-specific development plans for young players.
USA Hockey’s ADM Regional Manager, Roger Grillo, talked about the importance of making the game fun but also developmentally sound on whatever is appropriate for certain ages.
“The change we’re trying to make is to make sure hockey is age-appropriate, that we’re not taking little kids and treating them like those guys out there,” Grillo said, referring to the Bruins players who took to the ice for a pre-game, morning skate during the symposium. “We’re not letting the young kids play on the big sheet, we’re not letting them play with the same rules, we’re not screaming at them, we’re not holding them accountable for mistakes.”
One focus of the ADM is cross-ice hockey, which engages younger skaters and allows for more touches on the puck. This was mentioned quite frequently at the symposium, especially during the age-specific breakout sessions.
“If you took this scale of what an NHLer is compared to an 8-year-old, it would be like an NHLer playing hockey on a football field,” said USA Hockey Manager of Youth Hockey Kenny Rausch to a crowd of Mite coaches during his 8-and-Under session. “The biggest thing is to reduce the playing size so that they touch the puck more. That way, they’re more involved so that it’s not just the best player who is getting better, every kid is getting better — every kid has a chance.”
Joe Silvia, a Mites and Mini Mites coach from Hamden, Conn., attended the symposium and thought the best part was “just knowing that there’s a lot of support out there” from pro coaches and amateur coaches alike.
“The biggest thing I took away is — and it’s something that I preach to my kids all the time and to all the parents — if we go out there and we just have fun, the kids will learn,” Silvia said.
The coach of three years says he sticks to the ADM and only uses a half sheet of ice during practices.
“We use a lot of the soccer ball mentality and bigger pieces of equipment to help the kids with a lot of cone work and a lot of the smaller nets just so everything is not so big for them — it’s a little bit more scaled down to their size,” he said.
Another youth coach in attendance, Peter Cote, works with the Bantam 3 team in Arlington, Mass. He said that after 12 years of coaching, he’s happy to see a stronger connection being made between pro and youth hockey in the state.
“It seems there used to be a divide, but now it’s great that the Bruins are getting involved,” he said.
Cote, also a father to five of his own hockey players, coaches 14- and 15-year-olds and said he was able to walk away from the symposium with some good tips for his age group.
“I thought that was very interesting when the Bruins coaches talked about how you shouldn’t be weight training players who are under 16,” Cote said. “I coach older kids, so basically we’re right on the cusp of where you should or shouldn’t be doing weights.
“One of the speakers also made a statement about pressure — kids quitting because of parents and coaches putting too much pressure on them. You have to learn how to back off and be flexible.”
It doesn’t matter whether hockey is your job or your favorite pastime — the enjoyment should be the same for everyone, according to Bruins coach Claude Julien.
“Balance the teaching part and the fun part — that’s where youth coaches have to excel,” he said as he addressed the crowd from the ice. “It’s about respect. As coaches, you have to respect the kids. Create that chemistry within a team and you’ll be successful.”
The 2011 Stanley Cup champion coach added, “This isn’t a job for me, this is fun. Play for each other.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.