Until recently, youth hockey was considered a sport only for the “serious athlete,” meaning the young athlete with aspirations of one day becoming a professional hockey player. As such, the typical youth hockey player was one whose parents were very serious about the sport, whose parents started him or her playing at a young age, and who spent a lot of time and money on hockey. Behaving this way was deemed as a sort of “pathway to success” for the aspiring pro hockey player.
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Lately, however, the USA Hockey organization has stopped encouraging these attitudes and beliefs. It banned body-checking at the pee wee level to encourage otherwise nervous parents and kids to play the game. It also put an end to its expensive peewee national championship to encourage those families who weren’t willing or able to invest a lot of money in hockey to participate. It also, perhaps most shockingly of all, has encouraged its young players to engage in at least one other sport.
While, to many, these changes seem counterproductive, USA Hockey has its reasons for implementing them. Studies conducted by the organization divulged that by the age of 9, 43% of children who had been introduced to the sport at a young age had quit playing altogether. Delving further into this issue, they blamed the high quit-rates on children who were being pressured into the sport, overworked, and simply not having fun playing it. So, the goal of these changes is actually to increase the number of children playing hockey and, thus, to create more future pro hockey players, naturally. The thought is that if children are able to enjoy and play other sports and to focus less on the competitive aspects of the game, they will learn more in terms of actual skills and techniques and enjoy their playing and practice time more.
In fact, these principles are believed in so strongly that the organization took them one step further and implemented a plan known as the American Development Model or ADM for short. This program is focused more on having fun and learning the fundamentals of the game than it is on competition or excessive practice.