Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Will Youth Hockey Be Like in the Future?

Hockey, like any other sport, is constantly evolving and changing. One of the major changes that has been rocking the hockey world in recent years is the increased focus on development of hockey related programs and improving the game itself, both in terms of the way it is played and in terms of its safety. For example, in 2009, the National Hockey League allotted funds to new USA hockey programs for these very purposes.

The people who benefited the most from these funds- and who still continue to benefit- were youth players. After all, these are the players of tomorrow, the players of the future, so it makes sense that the NHL would want to invest in its future players.

It was in this same year- 2009- that the American Development Model was created. The model is essentially a comprehensive plan for ways in which the sport can be improved. It focuses on developing athletes over a long period of time, from youth into early adulthood. It is also geared more toward learning new skills than it is toward competition, a fact that will likely mean that youth hockey will get to be less and less about competition as time goes on.

In fact, that change is already becoming more and more evident in leagues around the globe. Today’s young players are being honed to be more technically developed and skilled than the players of the past, who were mostly just preened to be “winners.”

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some opposition to these changes. Many are sticklers for the old way of doing things and are holding out, refusing to move to the new methods. Eventually, though, as affiliated programs are required to follow more and more stringent rules, modern hockey players (and coaches!) will have no choice but to get with the program.

Regardless of how one feels about the playing regulations and new training focuses, there are some definite positives to these new methods. For example, hockey, thanks to its new, softer focus, which prohibits body checking until a mature age, is becoming more parent-friendly and player-friendly. Young players and their parents will be less worried about injury or other problems, prompting more players to sign up. In fact, these projected results are already occurring. From 2008 to 2009, for example, the number of children age 8 and under enrolling in hockey jumped from 90,000 to 107,387.

Experts are also predicting an increased focus on recruiting new players under the age of 8. These players will not be privy to the “old way” of doing things, and, in most cases, neither will their parents. That should mean less objection to the new rules and an easier time creating the players of tomorrow that hockey wants.

As enrollment in youth hockey increases and as more focus is put on retaining players, more rinks will likely crop up as well. So, as you can see, the future of hockey looks different but bright.  

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