skip navigation

Developing Great Players and People

By Staff, 11/07/19, 11:15AM MST


A Holistic Approach to Athlete and Character Development by The Aspen Times

A holistic approach to athlete and character development


Aspen Junior Hockey follows a coaching model that isn’t just geared toward developing great hockey players, it also focuses on developing great people

News | October 30, 2019

By Lauren Glendenning
For the Aspen Times

Youth sports often focus on the skills and training required to develop successful athletes, but what about age-appropriate skills and training that aim to develop great human beings?

That’s the focus of Aspen Junior Hockey, which coaches its youth and young adult players using the USA Hockey’s American Development Model — a model that has produced successful results, both on and off the ice, since its inception 10 years ago

“We have development plans that essentially define each of the skills that should be mastered at each age, and then build from there,” said Shaun Hathaway, Aspen Junior Hockey executive director. “We’re not just playing hockey, we’re building adults; we’re building great citizens.”

The American Development Model was partly influenced by studying how Swedish and Finnish youth hockey programs became such powerhouses with considerably less participants than other countries.

“They put training ahead of competition,” said Joe Bonnett, the American Development Model regional manager for the Rocky Mountain district. “In the U.S., we were concerned about wins and losses.”

After talking to sports science leaders from around the world, the ADM was developed to complement both biological and psychosocial growth and development.

Bonnett said the ADM’s goal is to develop more world-class athletes and more kids playing hockey for longer — who become fans of hockey, give back to hockey, and play adult league hockey.

In Aspen, Hathaway and other Aspen Junior Hockey coaches use the model to guide the culture of the entire program.

Aspen Junior Hockey coaches teach kids prescribed skills, while connecting the lessons learned playing the game with life lessons they’ll need to better navigate the world.

“The goal is when our kids leave, they are more intrinsically motivated and take more ownership for their sport and their studies, that they have character and they’re respectful of officials and adults,” Hathaway said.

Above all, kids are expected to have fun as they learn these powerful lessons about self-motivation, hard work, empathy, trust, respect, accountability, humility and more.

Kevin Freitas, an Aspen Junior Hockey parent and past volunteer coach, said the model isn’t like the tough-love hockey he grew up playing in Aspen, but he sees how it’s impacted his son’s development and wholeheartedly believes in the principles.

“I think it’s groundbreaking and it’s going to be good for the big picture, from mites to high school,” Freitas said. “You have to look at the big picture when it comes to development.”

According to the American Development Model, “overall athlete development involves not only sport-specific skills and an understanding of the game, but also understanding kids while developing general athleticism and fitness, fundamental movement skills, recovery, nutrition, and mental skills.”

Freitas said this model, and the sport of hockey in general, teaches an incredible amount of sportsmanship. Hockey is never a one-man game — you can’t win with just one good player on the team.

“It’s a full team sport,” he said. “The support you have to give to your team members on the ice carries over to school, the playground and into life.”

Aspen Junior Hockey believes in a designed system of coaching that focuses on age-specific biological and psychosocial growth and development.

Below are the principles of the model, which are used to promote age-appropriate athlete development, health and safety, and sustained physical activity throughout life.

Aspen Junior Hockey Development Model

  1. Excellence takes time – develop age-appropriate facets of hockey performance — technical, tactical, physical and mental — while understanding these factors are deeply interdependent.
  2. Physical literacy and fundamentals – develop confidence and skills in a fun, engaging and progressively challenging atmosphere.
  3. Build athleticism – provide all youth with a range of training modes to enhance both health and related components of fitness to reduce the risk of injury.
  4. Specialization and early sampling – encourage an early sampling approach for youth that promotes and enhances a broad range of experiences in sports and physical activity.
  5. Growth and individualization – normal growth, maturation and development is critical to delivering a quality sport program.
  6. Periodization – allow for effective and efficient plans for a single practice or training session, as well as weekly, seasonal and yearly plans.
  7. Mental, cognitive and emotional development – engage in programs that promote both physical fitness and psychosocial well being.
  8. Quality coaching – the consistent application of integrated, inter- personal and intrapersonal knowledge to improve athletes’ competence, confidence, connection and character in specific coaching contexts.
  9. System alignment and integration – collaborate, align, and integrate in delivering the very best athlete development programs possible.
  10. Continuous improvement – seek continuous improvement by implementing new findings, innovations, and best practices from sports science, education and coaching.