At any given level of sport, the most talented athlete at that level will get lots of praise. The trouble with judging talent is that what makes one person more talented at each level is subject to change. Talent is important but not the most important factor for furthering success. Building success for the future is something long-term and is a gradual process.
While off-ice factors and other sports can help a player’s development, it’s important to keep expectations in perspective when dealing with younger children.
Dr. Stephen Norris has two teenaged kids of his own who play hockey and other sports. He is a Performance and Development Consultant with Hockey Canada, after previously serving as the Executive Vice-President and Chief Sport Officer at WinSport Canada in Calgary. He played a key role as a consultant to the ‘Own The Podium’ program and was a founding member to the ‘Canadian Sport For Life’ movement.
Norris looks at youth sports as a set of stepping stones, with each level preparing a player for the next stage.
“What’s the role of Atom? The role of Atom is not to win some meaningless tournament that ultimately in the grand scheme of hockey isn’t that important, although it’s an important environment and learning experience for youngsters,” said Norris. “Atom is about getting kids ready for Peewee and Peewee is about getting ready Bantam and so forth. Good coaches really prepare and teach and provide experiences so that we get our youngsters ready for whatever’s coming next in their lives, no matter what level they’re playing at.”
There’s a reason it’s called Long Term Player Development. Some players take more time to hone their skills and become comfortable on the ice. The best players in Novice aren’t always the top ones at the Minor Midget level.
“The problem, of course, is that we focus simply on competition, we often choose just the people who are good at that Kodak moment in time and they’re not necessarily going to be the greatest athletes later on if you’re interested in true high performance.”
Introducing new skills progressively and scaling expectations and scenarios appropriately will only benefit how players view the game. As players grow older, so will the environment in which they play in.
“You don’t put (kids) into an adult situation and turn what is a power event for adults into an absolute endurance event for little kids. Really, it’s about keeping an open mind and scaling it and gradually making things more and more difficult until you sort of morph into the adult form of the game.”