Sorry about no column last week, but I was too busy trying to get my beverage money back from the organizing committee in Qatar. Such good hosts.
As long as I can remember I have extolled the value of proper development with our youth in hockey. And the one level that I can never stress enough about its importance is the initiation program (under sevens). Without a doubt, it’s the most important step in setting up the cornerstone of kids’ and coaches’ success in hockey. I worked with a number of northern associations, most notably Timmins, Schumacher and Porcupine minor hockey associations trying to strengthen that importance, both as the mentor and an initiation coaching instructor.
The last couple of days I had the good fortune to talk with my good friend, Brenda Torresan, who has been involved in the U/7 program since its inception. Brenda has been a tireless advocate and facilitator of U/7 and continues to make sure that kids in Porcupine are immersed in the foundation of learning the proper way to learn, have fun and develop.
She tells me that PMHA's U/7 Initiation has 157 participants divided into junior, intermediate and senior levels. The ages run from two (yes, two) to six years. With permission from the NOHA and Hockey Canada there are four beginners aged seven to nine (overagers), also learning to hone their skills.
And no matter who I talk to, people tell me how well the kids and the program are doing.
Some of you who had children in The Jets and my old hockey school can remember two things you saw on the ice in our five- to seven-year-old and eight- to 10-year-old classes … a million pucks and a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of junior and senior instructors to players. Individual and small-numbered instruction is vital not only for teaching purposes but for keeping kids focused and involved and a more personal interaction between the instructor/student.
I mention this because it makes me extremely happy to see that Brenda has 48 staff that keeps the above mentioned ratio in effect.
I have provided a screenshot with a list of the volunteers below.
As I scan the names I see so many names that are very familiar to me. All kinds of levels of coaching, playing and volunteering, committed to providing the basis of children's development.
And of course, all the coaches are certified as U/7 program instructors. This program is the base slice of the Hockey Canada development pyramid and once again I reiterate, what I feel is our most important segment in player development. Instill a keen desire to learn, show them the value of quality instruction, inspire them with passion to realize learning is an infinite quality, make it fun and challenging and set them up with a strong base that will keep them in the game forever. Start them off poorly and they will lose interest, stop having fun and develop bad habits that will inhibit their development. And by development, I'm not talking future NHLers. That's a whole different viper's nest for another future column.
For $280 per child (special rate or none for additional family members also) the instruction from qualified coaches is more than economical
The kids get a commitment from PMHA of three sessions per week, which includes two hockey and one skating-specific session.
Plus, they get Brenda!
This leads me to this … This past weekend (via Facebook) Brenda was recognized by PMHA's U/7 parents and community members for her excellent work helping the U/7 participants to learn and enjoy the game.
In response, Brenda noted "You touched my heart. Thank you. It takes a committed team of hockey-positive people who can share their ideas and know they all will not be accepted but respected, to make this happen. PMHA hockey has those people. You are all part of those people. Plenty of pride in the PMHA hockey world. Keep coming to the rink and you will find it everywhere. PMHA Proud.”
I started writing through Mully's and various other platforms in 2005. And I have always strived to promote and recognize the contributions of the thousands and thousands of dedicate, trained and passionate volunteers who guide and build our game 24/7.
The above is the latest in that objective.
Take a bow, Brenda. You and your group have done well!
In the vein of tiny hockey players. I offer you another of my boring Mike stories.
While in my 20s and coaching AAA Midget, I was working as an instructor for Gerry Labelle and Denis Brazeau at their hockey school, which I would purchase a few years later. The older groups were my specialties, like the midget program and the pro junior program. The school had magnificent instructors in the five- to seven-year-old program, who, to this day I would stack up against anyone. So one day Gerry comes to me and tells me that the lead instructor of that group has to attend a work-related commitment the last two days of the school and could I take the group for two days. My response was, "No freakin' way!' Gerry laughed and said, “No seriously, Mike" … "I am serious, Gerry."
Gerry wanted to know why. I answered that I wanted no part of a session that could quickly turn into chaos, panic, disorder and mayhem under my tutelage. All those tiny skaters under my feet and reminiscent of Bambi was just too much to take. After much consolation (and a bribe), I took those last two sessions. It invigorated me. It was a memorable event and affected my coaching from that day.
I had started coaching at the bantam level, then AAA juvenile before joining the Majors. So my only exposure to the tiny skaters was watching other coaches with the patience of Job, somehow manage to provide a super environment for the little ones to excel. I was too cool and too intimidated to ever put myself in with a group of mites.
So a few years passed and I and a few others take over the school. A number of the longtime instructors eventually retire and we need to find replacements. And guess who steps up and demands he gets the five- to seven-year-olds? Yup, the skating leprechaun. And until the day we retired the school that was MY group. And I loved it. I do miss it.
Many times at our coach mentor and development coach get-togethers, I would push for a rule where our most experienced and upper-level coaches should have to participate in two or three sessions with the U/7 kids. One reason was to bring some of our coaches back to earth. Another was to give them the sense of being refreshed by a group of tiny buzzsaws impassioned with being on the ice. Another was obviously to help out through their vast knowledge and experience. In some communities, the interaction between advanced and beginner hockey is quite pronounced. The effect can be quite pronounced.
Keeping it fun
You know, I've mentioned the fun factor more than a few times above. What I can't stress enough is how much of an effect fun has on every level of hockey. Tell me you didn't chuckle watching the Penguins mimicking Malkin during the pre-game stretch of his 1,000th game. Guys in their 20s and 30s smiling and laughing like little kids. Fun.
How many times have we heard these lines? "He's struggling out there. The game doesn't seem like fun for him anymore."
"Right now the team looks awful … Ya' we've got to work hard to play better, and find a way to make the game fun again"
"I need a change. It's just not any fun playing here anymore."
Despite it being a profession, you will always see athletes profess how important fun is to success.
Well that's it for this week. Put your red and white gear on and spend a couple of hours yelling at the TV and cheering for our men at the FIFA World Cup.