Following a distinguished career as a player for St. Lawrence University and the United States Women’s National Team, and then nine seasons behind the bench at Bowdoin College, Michele Amidon joined USA Hockey in 2006 as its first director of women’s hockey.
After overseeing the women’s program through several major tournaments, including the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Amidon took on a new role as an ADM regional manager in August 2010. Ever since Amidon has been providing local youth hockey associations with a blueprint for optimal athlete development, while also jumping on the ice to conduct clinics and help groom the next generation of American hockey talent.
As the 2014-15 season ramps up, we asked Michele about the ADM, how it’s been implemented and where it goes from here.
Q: In the broadest sense, can you describe USA Hockey’s American Development Model?
A: It’s age-appropriate training. A lot of people think it’s a new initiative, and in a formal sense, it is, but the ADM is really a developmental program that USA Hockey has been researching, developing and advocating for a long time. The difference is, now we now have the platform and the branding to get it out there to the public and to our coaches. It’s player development. It’s doing what’s best for kids. A part of the focus since the formal launch in 2009 has just been spreading the word and helping coaches and hockey directors implement age-appropriate programming within their programs.
Q: There’s an obvious connection from your time as a coach to working with the ADM. In what ways did your earlier time with USA Hockey as the director of women’s hockey prepare you to manage the ADM?
A: Being a part of higher-level hockey opens your eyes to deficiencies in our game. Our ADM regional managers have worked with Olympians and the NHL, or we’ve coached college players or worked with high-end type performers, U18 national team players... That shows us the strengths and weaknesses of our nation’s player pool. You see these strengths and weaknesses over and over, time and time again. And then you jump over to the youth game and it connects the dots. You understand why these older players have the deficiencies and strengths that they have now. You see what goes on out there day-to-day in the local associations throughout the year.
Q: In many ways, girls’ and women’s hockey is still in its own growth and development stage. In what ways is the application of the ADM different, if at all, for female players?
A: I get that question all the time, and there aren’t a lot of differences. There are more similarities than differences. Things that coaches may need to be aware of are just watching athlete development and the five trainable physical capacities. Just making those coaches aware that female athletes compared to male athletes are early developers, so our windows of skill development and strength have a shorter window. Girls hit their peak height velocity earlier than boys, stressing the importance of these early needs, such as skill development at an early age. But it’s just as important on the boys’ side. There are minor differences. When it comes to actual physical development of the players, there really isn’t any difference. We roll out the same material. The differences are the numbers in some (girls’) programs, which can cause a parent to wonder: Should she play boys’ hockey? Should she play girls’ hockey? Should she play on an older team or stay with her age group? Things like that can be challenges more characteristic of the girls’ side of the game.
Q: You’ve been in this position for four years now. What changes, or evolution, have taken place within the ADM during that time?
A: A ton. The ADM has been around for about five seasons and it’s been a continuing development in that we’ve been able to add staff, add materials and add resources. We’ve also added model associations throughout the five years, which is exciting. Building relationships within districts and associations takes time, and we’re seeing more and more fruits of that effort.
Q: You mentioned the relationship with the associations. Part of your role is getting out and presenting information to associations. How many of those appearances do you make? How do you select them? What type of message do you try to share?
A: It’s constant. It’s all year long. As regional managers, we present at a lot of Level I, II, III and IV events. Coaches are certified within USA Hockey, so we’re able to get in front of hundreds and hundreds of them. Working with an association is a little different than presenting at a clinic. During our association visits, we get to meet the board members, the hockey director, the parents and coaches, and tweak the presentation to meet their needs. What are their concerns? What are their issues? What is the size of their association? What level are they at? We gather all of that information and tailor our discussion to fit.
Q: Do you have some specific ADM success stories that you’re beginning to see and that you perhaps share in some of these presentations?
A: We absolutely see the difference in skill level when players have been trained in an ADM environment. They tend to be better with the puck, better in tight spaces, and better in terms of hockey sense and a feel for the game. We’ve also seen retention numbers increase nationwide, which is a testament to how much fun and engagement the kids are experiencing in the ADM. But one of the keys with the ADM is that it’s about long-term athlete development. We’re focused on helping kids reach their full potential and succeed at their highest levels possible, rather than peaking in their early teens. So it’s a little early if you’re looking for championships to be the ADM’s barometer, since implementation began with mites who are just now moving through peewee hockey. But we get lots of support from coaches who implemented the ADM and are now comparing their teams’ skill development with programs that aren’t as focused on age-appropriate training. They see the difference and that’s exciting.
Q: When you look specifically at girls’ hockey, how much of that has changed since your days?
A: It’s a drastic change. One hundred percent, it has changed. That’s probably even true with the boys’ games. Sports, the whole landscape has changed drastically since we were kids. It’s a business now. It’s all about travel teams versus recreational hockey. We understand the competitive nature, but we’re also trying to bring a little sanity back to youth sports and remind parents and coaches that these are kids and we need to let them be kids in order for them to reach their potential and stay in our game and maybe have a career in the sport of ice hockey.
Q: How important is it for girls to be playing with other girls? How much is that emphasized when you get the opportunity?
A: I put an article together trying to address that a few years ago because I probably have gotten that question over 1,000 times: Should my daughter play boys’ hockey or girls’ hockey? It’s not a black-and-white answer. It really depends. If you’re a girl that lives in Arizona or a girl that lives in Massachusetts, you are going to have different opportunities and resources in your backyard. You have to look it more as an athlete first versus the male-female roles. Once they hit a certain age, some of the key things I ask parents and coaches is whether the team is the best fit for her? Meaning, does that coach have the right philosophy in place, depending on the age of the athlete in question, working on what their needs are at that specific age and junction in their career? Do they have to drive an hour to play on an all-girls’ team or can they drive 10 minutes down the road and be on a boys’ team? There are some opportunities where it is best for girls to play with other girls, and there are some opportunities where it is best for girls to play with boys. It’s not so much the gender that you need to look at; it’s more about whether she is being treated like every other athlete. Is she getting equal playing time? Is it taxing on the family because of the distance to the rink? Those types of things are really important for the families to consider.
Q: We’ve talked about some of the differences from the past to now, what do you hope to see for the future of girls’ and women’s hockey?
A: Our numbers have exploded. When I was in high school, we had 10,000 registered players, and we’re up to almost 68,000 registered players now. There’s more and more opportunity at the youth level and, obviously, we have an Olympic sport now. We have over 80 collegiate programs. Our sport has just exploded. On the women’s side, there’s a lot of positivity and a lot of excitement to build around for the girls’ players. More exposure. You saw after the Sochi Games, during this last Girls’ Hockey Weekend, a couple of Olympians, Anne Schleper and Hilary Knight got the opportunity to practice with NHL clubs. That brings even more limelight to the girls’ game. The national team just played in the Four Nations, and people were able to log on and watch that live. We actually do need more exposure in terms of the television platform, but we are seeing a lot more support in a generation of families of athletes that understand and see hockey as a great sport for females as well.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.