Brent Sutter on Youth Hockey Development
In a TSN interview, Sutter went deeper: “Development starts at bantam age, at pee wee age, development starts at 10 years of age.
“It’s not about X’s and O’s and those types of things – it’s about development and skills and skating. You see how some of these teams in Europe, how they’ve done a remarkable job with that, and it’s something, I think, in our country we have to evaluate.
“There’s too much focus on winning and losing at such a young age and not enough about the skill part of it and the skating part of it, because that’s truly where it starts,” he said. “I’d personally like to see more skill, more creativity, because we had to play against it here and we got beat by it some nights.”
There is a North American attitude toward hockey practice that is simply bad. You can see it in the youngsters who don’t want to get out of bed for the 6:00 a.m. ice time and you can even see it at virtually any NHL practice.
Once the coach’s whistle blows long, most (but not all) North Americans head for the dressing room, while the Europeans tend to stay out – fooling about on the ice the way North American kids only do now on outdoor rinks.
No one, however, hates practice as much as the North American parent. Since they have to bring the child to the rink, they want a return on that investment of time. Games they can easily measure; progress, less so. Game conditions certainly teach survival, but only experiment and repetition create skill.
Parents are often, sadly, the main push behind tournaments – costly drives or even flights away – as, increasingly, they twist their child’s minor hockey experience into their own life. Those who push back are often pushed away.
Sutter’s statements, some will find surprising, fall very much in line with Hockey Canada’s 2013 “long-term player development plan,” which is only now being distributed throughout the provinces and organizations.
That document, five years in the making, calls for a far greater emphasis on practice and using other sports – no year-round hockey – to develop a “physical literacy” for life.
“Evidence would suggest,” the document argues, “that the number of games played by youngsters in Canada slows the development of players.”
The message is clear: Cut way down on games, de-emphasize wins and losses, get off the tournament carousel, make far better use of ice space, work on skills and speed – and make it fun.
Hockey Canada even offers a quote from Hall-of-Famer Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”