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Submitted By Vanda Slaney on Monday, March 26, 2018
Three leaders discuss changes to Programming Novice & Below...

The Ontario Minor Hockey Association hosted an information session with representatives from the Ontario Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada regarding the delivery of the Programming Novice & Below.

Hockey Canada has established national guidelines to ensure the development of hockey players at Initiation, Tyke and Novice age divisions and the benefits of age-appropriate programming and a scaled playing environment were discussed. Among the leaders present were Ian Taylor, Executive Director of the OMHA, Paul Carson, the Vice-President of Hockey Development for Hockey Canada and Phil McKee, the Executive Director of the OHF.

The conference was designed to explain the background behind the decision of the nationwide initiative that will see more kids at younger ages playing and practicing hockey in age-appropriate programming.

“I’m excited to be a part of this, being here today to be able to talk through a number of reasons why we’re making this change allows us to really be as transparent as possible and provide clarity to families that are not only in the game today, but new families that are registering their youngsters and want to know that the development experiences that their youngsters will have are the best they can be,” said Carson.

“We want to give the right start to our beginner or introductory hockey players in terms of the ability to enjoy the game,” said Taylor. “If they learn skills, if they have some success, if they improve, they’re going to be engaged, they’re going to enjoy the sport and they’re going to keep playing the sport. I think that’s really the foundation of all other hockey. This is our starting point.”

Hockey Canada has established national guidelines to help ensure optimal development for players at a crucial introductory stage, which the OMHA began implementing this season:

  • Currently, game play for the Initiation group (5 & 6 year-olds) is now Cross-Ice
  • Effective 2018-19, game play for Tykes will be half ice
  • The following season, games for Novices (8-year-olds) will start with Half-Ice and transition to Full-Ice over the second half of the season

"Trophies and tournament wins and points on the scoreboard are not as important as the development opportunities we give youngsters to just enjoy the sport and discover as they go."

“It’s important to put this kind of principle in play for hockey right across the country and for all of our partners and all of our stakeholders to know that this is a consistent approach right across the country,” said Carson. “All players will benefit from a development approach that really looks at their needs as opposed to the needs of the game and having youngsters fit into what the adult game should look like.”

The rollout plan that started this season will take continue to take place over the next two years for Programming Novice & Below.

“It’s moving forward. I think it was really important to all of us that this was a transition, a progression. I think that’s really important,” said Taylor. “Specific to the role of the OHF, I commend those guys on the consistency.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

The same way that equipment in school gyms is smaller for younger students and the desks are appropriately sized based on age, this programming stays in line with a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive developmental areas.

“What we’ve tried to do is by shrinking the space, we’ve given kids the opportunity to play in an area that’s more conducive to developing skills at their level… Good players will benefit from a system like this as much as the new players into the game,” said Carson. “The challenges that we present for really good players, they need to be at a level where that player is improving as well. I just do not believe for a second that an environment that’s more appropriate to the 8-and-under player is going to be anything but beneficial to every skill that’s on the ice.”

“Parents should be happy that we’re focusing back on fun... We haven’t made this as an individual group, we’ve made this along with other sports. This is something that came from Sport Canada a number of years ago with their long-term athlete development and it really sets out that 4-to-9 years of age development process that they’ll get to experience which is active start and fundamentals,” said McKee. “It’s refocusing back on that which is going to make kids want to stay in the game longer and enjoy the game.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa Photography

Limited whistles and rules emphasis in Programming Novice & Below allows players to stay involved and engaged in the play. It puts the focus back on the physical literacy part of movement skills while introducing the basic, fundamental technical skills specific to hockey.

“A competition model works counter to a sport development model and we really need to set our sights on being a sport development model and put competition in the back seat,” said Carson. “Trophies and tournament wins and points on the scoreboard are not as important as the development opportunities we give youngsters to just enjoy the sport and discover as they go.”

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