I grew up in small a prairie town. I lived my first 10 years a short skate down icy 8th Street to the rink in Carman, Manitoba. From November to March, the snow pack was so hard on the side streets that I could skate from the end our our driveway right to the front doors of the rink.
When temperatures hit the “without a toque, your ears will fall off” thresholds, school was automatically cancelled. A school closure coupled with an empty rink set the stage for competitive “mini tournaments” that lasted until we were too tired or hungry to play any longer. I don’t recall having referees, coaching, matching jerseys or even full equipment. I do remember the thrill of scoring goals, making plays and dreaming of a bright hockey future.
In our minor hockey league, we had enough players in town to ice a team at each age. Some players were great and others, well, they enjoyed the game. By Pee Wee, my family had moved to Switzerland, where my father was a professional coach and my mother a teacher. My fondest memories there were playing stick and puck with my classmates every second friday, as part of our physical education at the International School of Zug. As the only hockey player in my school of international expatriates, I enjoyed the glory as the only one that could raise a slapper — even if I had to open my blade and hack the shot! I never told them my secret, and they were none the wiser.
Kids that love hockey will compete against themselves, and against their peers. At young ages, their will to learn, explore and gain peer acceptance creates friendly rivalries that elevate their skills and execution to new heights.
As a coach with a Master of Education degree, I feel it is my obligation to focus on promoting age-specific levels of formal and informal competition. The Canadian Sport for Life website states: “Science, research and decades of experience all point to the same thing: kids and adults will get active, stay active, and even reach the greatest heights of sport achievement if they do the right things at the right times.” This means that an athlete will get the most out of his/her sport — no matter what the level — if development progresses at the right pace with the right type of training.
A great athletic development guideline to follow is the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, which integrates a balance of training, intensity, and competition. It is summarized in seven stages. What is interesting is that the word “compete” does not enter the stage titles until Stage 5 — which begins at age 15 for girls and age 16 for boys!
Stages 1 through 3 help develop basic physical and athletic skills that athletes will use to be active for life. Stages 4 through 6 provide elite training for athletes and begin to narrow down sport selection towards specialization in one to two sports. According to this theory, it is not until Junior Hockey and adulthood that athletes should be training to WIN.
These six stages set the athlete up for Stage 7, which focuses on lifelong participation in competitive or recreational sports. I support this model because I believe it helps to prevent burnout from overexposure to competition at too young an age. Now that I’m about to become a dad, this has become personally relevant. I believe I owe it to my child to see him or her through all seven stages — in whatever sport that inspires him! If he achieves greatness in his chosen path, well, that would be just fine.
For more information on the LTAD, visit www.canadiansportforlife.ca.
The 7 Stages of the Long-Term Athletic Development Model
Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)
Stage 2: FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
Stage 3: Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
Stage 4: Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16)
Stage 5: Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
Stage 6: Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
Stage 7: Active for Life (any age participant)