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Brent Sutter thinks we need a ‘new normal’ for Canadian kids’ hockey; he’s right

Bravo, Brent Sutter, for having the courage to take the road less travelled.

Sutter coached the Canadian team that took fourth at the World Junior Hockey Championships that finished January 5 in Malmo, Sweden. In an attempt to make sense of Canada’s disappointing performance, Sutter had the courage to take the road less travelled and stayed away from the usual excuses.

Instead, he pointed to a different way to develop hockey players in Canada.

In a Globe & Mail article by Roy MacGregor, Sutter identified Canada’s takeaways from the tournament if we want to develop better youth players and remain a top hockey nation:

  • cut down on games
  • de-emphasize wins and losses
  • get off the tournament carousel
  • make better use of ice space
  • work on skills and speed
  • and make it fun

Sutter’s statements show courage because they are contradictory to what the majority of Canadian grass-root coaches and parents believe.

We have always dominated the world game by pushing kids to learn to compete, to be intense and physical. Nothing wrong with these attributes, but they are not enough anymore. The old norm has become obsolete.

At events like the World Juniors, we are witnessing a new standard in the game. A “new normal” displayed by countries like champions Finland that play a smart physical game with great intensity, but they also play with ample skills.

Hockey Canada is aware and ahead of this “new normal” as demonstrated by its long-term player development approach. The next battle is to convince hockey’s grassroots – parents and coaches at the youth level – that we must change our perspective on the game.

As we celebrate the roster of men and women who will compete for Canada at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, let’s make sure that our kids develop more skills and, more importantly, that they grow their love of the game and remain “hockey players for life”.

15 responses to “Brent Sutter thinks we need a ‘new normal’ for Canadian kids’ hockey; he’s right

  1. It is so tempting for us coaches to give a player what he/she wants rather than what they need. They want to play games only. They need practice. Simplest solution: Turn all practice drills into games.

  2. One of the biggest mistakes I see in hockey today is playing it 12 months of the year.
    Even young kids will burn out if not given the opportunity to compete at other sports.
    I’m finding the 12 month hockey players are declining around January/February, which is right in the middle of the playoff drive.
    We need to be less “one sported”, and start offering up a more mixed blend of sports, not just to encourage new sport into the kids but to ensure all sports can flourish in their respective seasons.
    I coach at the 10 year old level and we focus on fitness and health once a week throughout the winter by utilizing dry land training techniques. It gives the kids a mental break from hockey. We usually start with 45 minutes of agility, plyo and, cardio followed up with a game of basketball or handball or soccer. I try to eliminate floor hockey. We even encourage a healthy diet and proper snacking and hydration techniques.

    1. I am totally on board with multi sports … Other sports will also help you develop other muscles that you can use in hockey .

      My son is 7 loves hockey but has also tried , soccer , lacross and mountain biking as summer sports and has asked to play football .

      We maybe all over the map but we let him choose his sports until he finds something he loves .

      At our house hockey is the main sport , but from growing up I learned we leave the game at the rink . The car ride home is ….well to get home not to coach him on what happened .

  3. Rural areas are going to lose most of the good,experienced coaches because of the outrageous amount of “online”clinics they are stuffing down our throats.You will only have the fanatics that want every level and want to play 40games in HIP hockey.Exactly what we don’t want,especially when it is all house league and about fun and skills! As a long time player and coach I am completely disheartened by the direction the bureaucrats have taken the game-reality check is long overdue. Seriously-mandatory hitting clinics for coaches???

  4. I just heard from a friend that her daughter’s hockey team played 25 games in September! and only 3 practices. My eyes bugged out of my head and I said that’s way too much and what are the girls learning? Her response was that if it wasn’t games, the girls would be bored. WHAT? How about less times on the ice in the opening month of a season and how about the coach finds a way to make the practices fun and develop skill. I’d be looking for another club if I was her.

  5. Sutter’s comments are welcome but momentum is in the opposite direction – more games, more tournaments, win, win, win, etc. I think there needs to be a road map and from our hockey leaders to make Sutter’s comments more of a reality.

    1. Drew, I asked Corey McNabb Sr. Manager, Coach & Player Development @ Hockey Canada and he shared the following comment with AfL:

      Hockey Canada promotes the “new normal” for kid’s hockey – a 12 month road map that insures kids do the right thing at the right time. Not just hockey, but also athleticism, multisport, skill development, competition and proper physical and mental recovery. We are developing the tools that will help hockey leaders and coaches know what to do and when so that hockey is brought to kids in a way that they will grow their skills and their love of the game.

  6. I’ve only heard encouraging words from coaches for my 6 and 9 year old boys and if they lose it’s not a big deal they work hard and have fun when it’s no longer fun we won’t register for the next season. We also have the good fortune of living out in the country so the kids have lots of ice time for practices and scrims with a game once a week sometimes every two weeks. Kids are allowed to bring mini sticks to play hockey outside during recess at school and have fun. I thought we had a great hockey program out here in rural Manitoba but after reading this article I know we do:)

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Certainly there are great programs and great coaches and great parents – and great kids! – playing hockey. It’s important to recognize when we’re doing it right, and to celebrate that.

    2. Time for the silent majority to stand up?

      Since my article was published, numerous parents and coaches have brought to our attention the many good things that are happening in minor hockey.

      There are many who believe in the “new normal” and make it a reality everyday on rinks around the country.

      What if the many coaches and parents that believe that the “new normal” is good for minor hockey were to speak up? Become more vocal within their associations, league and provincial chapters?

      Parents volunteer to coaches, to manage teams, and direct league. They are in a position to improve the game from the grass root level up.

      Maybe it’s time for this silent majority to become more vocal and help make the “new normal” a reality?

  7. The penalty that kids get for fighting is 2 minutes in the box. It should be banned completely and harsh penalties such as, one punch and your out of the game.

    Hockey should be a game of skill, not killing each other up against the boards and no fighting. Olympic hockey is all about skill and team playing.

    If the rules change, more kids would play.

    Coaches also need training on how to talk positive to the kids without calling them losers. A parent should be present at all times in the change room and bench for fair play and kids safety.

  8. Mettre en place des bon coach, faire joué tes éléments offensif quand c’est le temps et surtout mettre en place un entraîneur neutre . Mettre en place un camp d’entraînement pour chaque compétition importante. (“Put in good coaches, increase offense and mostly put neutral coach in place. Also put in training camps before major each major event.”)

  9. Yet nothing is ever mentioned about taking fighting out of the game. Seriously, how can you teach good sportmanship when fighting is part of the game? This is only sport that it is allowed, and it’s horrible. Not that I disagree with what was said above, but fighting needs to come out. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that?

    1. Jenn, fighting is not allowed in any International Ice Hockey Federation event nor is it permitted in Canada’s minor hockey system. Players who fight are penalized and suspended.

      We advocate for young players getting the chance to learn the movement skills that will help them become better players. That means more skills training, fewer games, and more fun.

  10. In 1997 I implemented a program to advance skill development in Airdrie and maximize ice usage. ICE: Ice Capacity & Efficiency was a hugely successful program that increased an athlete’s access to development ice by 75% with no increase in cost. Airdrie launched the Coach Development Program I designed. We met as coaches monthly and discussed ways to improve practices, tempo and skill development drills. We moved to a focus on skill development, not wins.

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