Alberta committed to making hockey a positive experience for its youngest players

Alberta committed to making hockey a positive experience for its youngest players

An earlier version of this story inaccurately identified Justin Fesyk. We apologize for the error.

Thanks in part to Wayne Gretzky, many Canadian children aspire to be “The Great One” on the ice, but as their hockey leagues promote this, many kids in the younger ages are too busy trying to keep up to have any fun.

Happily, Alberta is rethinking the way kids play, with a focus on enjoying themselves being the real goal (pun intended), according to an article in the Calgary Herald. Alberta is now among those following Hockey Canada’s guidelines when it comes to the youngest players, implementing smaller playing areas, lighter pucks, modified rules, and enhanced coaching for players under age seven.

Justin Fesyk, senior manager, hockey development for Hockey Alberta, was quoted in the Herald article as saying, “All those things that we impose on five- or six-year-olds, I mean, you look at human growth and development, and they’re physically not ready,”.

Hockey Alberta says there was initially some reluctance from parents, but they’ve seen positive results, and now they too are excited about the changes. No doubt they’re hoping to rival Quebec, where this model is already successfully in place.

Although improved skills and more elite players seem to be one of the outcomes of this model, this is not the focus for the executive director of Hockey Alberta, Rob Litwinski. The goal is to just keep them playing and playing well. “We want to focus on smiles on faces and positive experiences at the entry level. There’ll be lots of time in atom and peewee to cover the next level of the game.”

As someone with many hockey-parent friends tired of the competitive nature of the leagues, and as a mother to a child who is often frustrated when she doesn’t immediately succeed at something, I’m a big fan of this approach.

Giving kids the physical tools they need to get them excited about playing, and focusing on that enthusiasm — taking a longer term approach to player development — fosters the kind of positive experience and attitude they can take into other endeavours: athletic, academic, and social. Of course, the more fun they have, the more they’ll want to play, and the more they play the better they’ll get, which means they will have even more fun. Can you say win-win?

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