Anthony Donskov is the founder of DSC where he serves as the Director of Sport Performance. Donskov holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & is the author of Physical Preparation for Ice Hockey.
Thanks Dad: 5 Youth Development Lessons from my favorite Coach
I love the game of hockey! I’ve been involved in the sport my entire life! It’s my passion! I’ve had the unique opportunity of playing at all levels (mite-semi-pro). My passion these days involves giving back to the game, both working with youth, pro and Olympic level athletes in the confines of the gym and stepping on the ice to help run our family hockey school (Donskov Hockey Development). My brothers also enjoyed relatively long playing careers (college, semi-pro). My father often gets asked how three children growing up predominately in Mid-West Ohio all went on to have relatively long hockey careers. I love my father’s response. In my opinion it’s a motto that should be embraced by all coaches involved in youth sports.
Thanks Mom and Dad!
1.) Have FUN! If it’s not fun, kids won’t play. Adult Values+Childood Activities=Burnout! The game has to be fun! Youth development centers around exposure, repetition, equal playing time and good old-fashioned FUN! If it’s not fun it’s not worth playing.
2.) Work Hard! My father loved the life lessons that teamwork instills. Accountability, commitment, determination, sacrifice and hard work. The great news about work ethic is everyday we have direct control over it! Work ethic trumps all!
3.) It’s NOT about winning and loosing! My father NEVER placed a value in winning. He never compromised development at an early age for winning! I have personally seen house league mite/squirt coaches match lines, sit players during close games and tournaments. How is this possibly developing our youth? How is this fun or a good experience for a nine year old just getting into the game? Here are a couple interesting statistics regarding declining retention rates among youth players.
Retention of critical youth players has been in decline since 2000
- 2.60% of players drop out before Peewees
- 3.20% only play one season before dropping out (40% in Massachusetts!)
Mid-West Elite Hockey League
- 2001 Squirt AAA, Illinois – Translates to Midget AAA
- In 2001 – 63 Squirts on 4 Tier 1 Teams
- 40 Still play hockey – 63.5%
- 23 Are out of hockey – 36.5%
4.) Don’t dream on behalf of your child! My father never dreamed on our behalf. He spoke about loving the game, having fun and a commitment to working hard each and every shift. He NEVER spoke about possible scholarships, contracts, goals assists or points. My father spoke about love, discipline and hard work, values that are imperative to youth development regardless of sport. This has rubbed off on our entire family. Below is some additional advice from my older brother Misha (current Assistant GM/Assistant Coach of the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League).
Misha’s advice to young children:
- FUN is the key...smile every time you hit the ice.
- Work on the fundamentals (i.e. SKATING, puck handling, passing, shooting). SKATING is the foundation of hockey (every other technical hockey skill is in some way, connected to skating).
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Play as much as you can in an uncontrolled, relaxed, FUN environment...with friends!
- Keep the parents, politics and pressure OUT!
- At an early age, play as many positions as possible.
- Learn the value of hard work, dedication, and team.
- Develop good, sound friendships with teammates and other players.
- Take something from every practice/game.
5.) Multiple sports! We NEVER played hockey year round. We went to one hockey school each summer (The Doug Crossman hockey school in London Ontario, Canada). We played multiple sports and had adult free uninterrupted free time. My father loved free time. He never instructed us to shoot 100 pucks; he never placed pylons out for stick work. My father believed in free time. In my opinion it is this “free time” that builds hockey sense. Small area games, quick thinking, multiple puck touches and razor sharp decision-making. Ken Dryden sums it up eloquently:
“It is in free time that the special player develops, not in the competitive expedience of games, in hour-long practices once a week, in mechanical devotion to packaged, processed, coaching-manual, hockey-school skills. For while skills are necessary, setting out as they do the limits of anything, more is needed to transform those skills into something special. Mostly it is time unencumbered, unhurried, time of a different quality, more time, time to find wrong answers to find a few that are right; time to find your own right answers; time for skills to be practiced to set higher limits, to settle and assimilate and become fully and completely yours, to organize and combine with other skills comfortably and easily in some uniquely personal way, then to be set loose, trusted, to find new instinctive directions to take, to create.
But without such time a player is like a student cramming for exams. His skills are like answers memorized by his body, specific, limited to what is expected, random and separate, with no overviews to organize and bring them together. And for those times when more is demanded, when new unexpected circumstances come up, when answers are asked for things you’ve never learned, when you must intuit and piece together what you already know to find new answers, memorizing isn’t enough. It’s the difference between knowledge and understanding, between a super-achiever and a wise old man. And it’s the difference between a modern suburban player and a player like Lafleur.”
My father taught me a lot at an early age. He taught me that having fun, working hard, not worrying about the scoreboard and enjoying free time supersede goals, assists, wins, loses and scholarships. There comes a time in everyone’s career where specialization eventually occurs. Let’s not rush this process; lets not place adult values on a child’s game. Let’s grow the great game of hockey by providing a FUN atmosphere where development trumps tournament wins. Thanks Dad for all you did and continue to do! For there is nothing more important as the development of our youth, our future, and our game!