The ADM truly is a complete, robust, sport science-based long-term development plan and philosophy, from Mini Mites all the way to Olympians.
It’s been almost 10 years since the rollout of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Despite the growth of the game at the grassroots level, unprecedented success on the international stage, record numbers of Americans playing in college and pro hockey, a ringing endorsement from the USOC and significant strides made in the availability of parent and coach resources, there are still a number of misperceptions about the ADM and even a few skeptics.
Roger Grillo, an Apple Valley, Minnesota native, ADM Regional Manager for USA Hockey and former college hockey coach of 20 years, is here to explain some lesser-known aspects of the sport science-backed model.
It’s Not That Radical?
When you drill down to the foundation of the ADM, it’s not nearly as radical as some might think. And if you draw parallels with athlete development and education in the classroom, it makes a ton of sense.
“The ADM was created to try to change the culture of youth hockey and make training and practices more age-appropriate and effective for the players,” said Grillo. “It’s about understanding what are the specific needs for individual players and addressing those, rather than treating every kid the same, or big kids like little kids and vice versa.”
Take full-ice hockey for 8-year-olds. Why is that ineffective? If you created a hockey rink for adults proportionate to what it's like for Mites on a full ice sheet, it would be like playing hockey on rink the size of a soccer field.
It’s Not Just for Mites?
Not by a long shot. The ADM truly is a complete, robust, sport science-based long-term development plan and philosophy, from Mini-Mites all the way to Olympians.
As children progress in age, the ADM progresses with them, providing age-specific training and competition proven to help athletes reach their full potential. For some, that means high school hockey. For a select few, it might mean college, pro or even Olympic hockey. But the hope is that every kid who signs up for youth hockey will eventually end up playing in adult leagues.
In other words, the ADM’s goal is to create hockey players for life.
The ADM Is … Minnesotan?
The ADM emphasizes development at local hometown rinks. Sound familiar? It should.
Because the community-based model of Minnesota Hockey is centered on the idea of playing in your hometown, with friends from the neighborhood, all the way through high school – all of which helps keep costs and travel down. This emphasis helps children benefit from more skill development, less burnout and less family financial burden.
It is easy to take that built-in culture for granted here in Minnesota, but believe it or not, community-based hockey is not the norm in America.
It’s Not a War Against Games?
Games are fun! Everyone loves game day. A common concern is that the ADM doesn’t provide enough focus on competition and game scenarios – in other words, a war on games. But that’s just not true.
“In many cases, the model is upside down – the season is too long, there’s too many games, too much time at the rink and the focus is on team play and structure,” said Grillo. “For young players to develop, it requires focus on individual skills and off-ice development – sharp, focused drills at practice, with repetition, really maximizing time on the ice.”
That means age-appropriate practice-to-game ratios, which should be 3:1 at the youth levels. As USA Hockey National Coach-in-Chief Mike MacMillan notes:
“Let’s say a team with 15 players and three lines plays a game with 15-minute periods,” MacMillan added. “They’re going to be on the ice for a total of what? 15 minutes. That’s not very much.
“However, if you’re going to an hour practice and have a good, organized station-based practice, those kids are going to have so many more puck touches, so much more skating and time on task, so much more development going on than a game situation. It’s that simple.”
It’s Not Just Hockey?
While the ADM was initiated by USA Hockey in 2009, the United States Olympic Committee eventually partnered with USA Hockey to push the ADM across all American sports.
“We embrace the long-term athlete development principles that allow American youth to maximize their full potential.”
— Scott Blackmun, USOC chief executive officer
“Research has shown the importance of fun, age-appropriate participation as crucial in the development of elite athletes. We are seeing promising signs from young athletes who are excelling thanks to these fundamental principles, which are centered on universal access, developmentally appropriate activities, multi-sport participation, quality coaching and fun.”
— Alan Ashley, USOC chief of sport performance
It’s Actually More Fun?
Some folks might say, “That’s not the way we learned the game.” But for those who coach or watch their kids thrive in the ADM, we often hear the opposite: “I wish we did it this way when I was young!”
As former Gophers captain and current ADM Manager Emily West says:
“I tell people it looks different. Trust me, I grew up where it looked like full-ice hockey, and I wish I would have grown up in this small-ice environment instead.”
Grillo agrees that it’s much more fun this way.
“Some people think that focusing on practice and skill development takes the fun out of hockey – I think it’s the opposite,” Grillo said. “If I’m at a station with six kids and playing keep-away or tag or a mini-game, and it’s high-energy and high-tempo and I’m touching the puck every two seconds, and not sitting, there’s not a kid on the planet who doesn’t think that’s fun and entertaining. Plus, we’re building the basic skills and techniques that will appropriately prepare these kids for every next level.”