Just as a shark survives by swimming forward, a good hockey coach maintains his or her level of excellence by never resting on their laurels.
Those invited to attend the High Performance Symposium this week were representatives among some of the top development programs working at the highest levels of youth hockey in the game today.
One of the key characteristics that each of them possesses is an inner drive to continue to improve their own craft as they look to help their players develop the skills needed to reach the next level of play.
As the Symposium wrapped up Thursday with presentations from National Team Development coach Don Granato and longtime NHL coach Mike Sullivan, coaches said their week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center was time well spent and that they looked forward to taking what they learned here and incorporating various elements into their programs back home.
“It’s always nice to get together with like-minded people,” said Gordie Stafford who has led the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Girls’ program to eight USA Hockey National Championships over his 15 years at the Fairbault, Minn., prep school.
“What’s been very gratifying this week is that it validates a lot of the stuff we’re doing at Shattuck. Also, with every speaker you get a little tidbit here and there that you can take back to your program and take back to the school, so there’s always value in that.”
It wasn’t just the X’s and O’s of the game that was featured in the curriculum. And some of the most popular speakers are involved in the mental and physical development of athletes in other sports. And that was refreshing for even the most experienced hockey coaches.
“It was great to be a part of this week and to hear so many great people, their perspectives, not just from the sport of hockey but how volleyball, and tennis, and different sports really tie in together to develop great athletes because it truly becomes a mindset,” said Michael Peca, a 13-year NHL veteran who now coaches the Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
“The skill stuff we can teach but the mental part is huge. So to learn all that here was tremendous.”
It also helped to discuss the nuances of player development from coaches from other countries. That willingness to share ideas is at the core of this symposium as USA Hockey views the American Development Model as a melting pot of the best practices and ideas used to help develop players around the world.
“We have to share our information because the biggest thing is to develop athletes, to develop young athletes,” said Tommi Neimila, the head coach of Finland’s U16 National Team. “It doesn’t matter if they’re American or Finnish, or Czech or Russian, the biggest thing is to help those youngsters achieve their own dreams.”
As important as the various presentations and breakout sessions were, it was the interaction between the coaches and speakers at the USOC dining hall and during various social events that allowed coaches to get to know each other while sharing some of the challenges they face in their respective organizations.
“It’s just great to be in a place where everyone is relating to the same situations and every day occurrences you go through,” said Hayley Moore of the East Coast (Mass.) Wizards. “Everyone has a new way, a different way doing things so it’s really fun to collaborate and it’s so important to keep learning so this is a great place to do it.”
It’s all part of a process as USA Hockey looks to strengthen the youth hockey community by bringing together like minded coaches to help create a deeper talent pool and a more consistent and efficient method of player development.
“Dr. Steve Norris [a leading expert in long-term athlete development] talked about creating a band of brothers within the hockey community,” Kevin McLaughlin, USA Hockey’s senior director of Hockey Development, said in referring to the keynote speech on Monday night.
“I thought we took a big step forward with that this week. The camaraderie of the leaders of hockey in our country was amazing.
“Our goal was to get leaders of teenaged hockey in our country, whether it’s to come and join and create a cadre of hockey leaders who impact the development of youth hockey players around the country. I think we took a very positive step in that direction.”