Finland, the World Hockey Champion

Registered Youth Hockey Player’s

Canada- Around 650,000

USA- Around 560,000

Finland- Around 70,000

Finland seems to do everything right. Happiest Country in the World, highest level of adult/child literacy, and now World Junior Champions. I love what they do, their culture, and focus on health. The United States is excellent too I am so proud to be an American. It just is remarkable a Country, so small, can spend year after year beating Countries like Canada and the United States with such a more significant amount of players.

We could look at different areas in which Finland strives, but the one I want to focus on is their Hockey Development Model. How does a Country with 70,000 ice hockey player’s compete with Countries with 500,000 plus? If you do research, study, and learn about their plan, they seem to be all on the same page in regards to development. USA Hockey has indeed done a fantastic job organizing and creating a plan (ADM). As a Country, we have not adopted the model completely- walk into a rink, talk with the parents, and the United States still has a long way to go.

In 2013, Finland started providing the top clubs in Finland with skill coaches for working individually with children aged 10 to 14 — the prime time for skill development. They focus on training and not what tournament or travel team. The players in Finland love to train, running and working out seems to be a habit ingrained in all of them. Now in the United States, the opposite- training is secondary.

In Finland, if the National team borrows a player after the camp or a tournament, the coach will visit each and every club that had players present. He sits down with the player and the coach of their team in order to work out together how the player did, and what to work on and develop before the next tournament. Side note, In Sweden they do not even keep track of wins and losses until 14 years old. They want the focus on development, and this would certainly not work here.

With skills coaches at an early age, all kids get a chance to develop and enjoy the game. It is simple; it should be fun. No one should be exhausted from traveling the Country for tournaments, stressed about losing a youth hockey game, all of this is secondary. The priority should be to emphasize training, being healthy, education, and playing other sports. Finland did a great job with development, and it works, Congrats on another World Junior Championship Gold Medal.

Failure is Okay

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Andrew Bates

Marblehead, Mass

My name is Andrew Bates from Marblehead, Massachusetts. At 26 years old I started my own company, Nexx Up Hockey with the goal to help young athletes reach their goals. Hockey has given me many lessons, memories, and ups/downs that has given me the ability and knowledge to give back to the game and share my experiences.

Hockey is physically and mentally challenging. Any hockey player who played Junior A, College, or Professionally will tell you that the mental part of the game is the most important factor. During my 21 years of playing hockey I had success and failure but it was all part of the process. I was a top player in my youth hockey years playing for top AAA teams in the Boston area (Boston College Jr. Eagles) with many future College Captains and current NHL players. In High School, success followed, I was a 4 Year Starter, 3 Time Conference All-Star, MVP, and highly recruited to play at top Prep/Junior programs every year. It came fairly easy to me during my young years as I was blessed with natural ability and always had a high compete level that helped me achieve success. As a Freshman I figured I would play Junior Varsity. No Freshman tended to play and 90% of team was 17 and 18 years old. After tryouts I not only made Varsity but was put on the first line with two of the best players in the programs history. I was smaller and younger but that did not stop me, I was fearless and highly competitive. I found success, it came early for me but one thing this game has taught me is sometimes your on top of the mountain and sometimes your on the bottom looking up.

Today there are many issues in youth sports but the biggest I see is when it gets challenging for a player, parents like to deflect blame onto others. What does this accomplish for any young athlete? It is counter productive and will disrupt any development of mental toughness. We all wonder why young kids can’t listen and follow directions, it is because they have so many voices in their head. My first taste of adversity was playing New England Prep School Hockey and Junior Hockey. This happened at a later age and it was difficult to deal with as athletics came naturally for me. Growing up I was naturally faster and stronger not only in Hockey but in football and baseball. I was the quarterback on my football team and a all-star youth baseball player. My mother and father supported me whether I was the starting QB in football, playing all-star baseball, or playing AAA hockey, they were always right there with me. They were with me in a supportive way but I never heard them complain about coaches or players in my 22 years of playing. I did wonder sometimes why they didn’t spend time after talking with the coaches as the others did but now I realize why they did not. It was also clear that I had to do the work and make my own way. This correlates with my family as I had two brothers that were also successful athletes. My younger brother went on to have a strong 4 year career as the starting Linebacker at Norwich University.

I played in mostly a top 6 forward role at Kimball Union Academy, on a extremely talented roster with many successful future College and Professional players. This for many is a definition of success but not for me. We finished with a record of 24-8-2 and it was a top notch school/program, I had the best teammates. It was also turning point in my hockey career, averaging over a point a game in High School, I struggled to be a top scorer which was mentally challenging. I had 10 points in a little over 20 games played, not even close to the production everyone expected from me and I expected from myself. I averaged over a point a game for much of my High School years and that was my expectation every year. I didn’t get a chance to play the full year, I suffered my first severe concussion, missing many meaningful games and tournaments. That mentally was hard as the team was playing and I was at home recovering- I didn’t feel apart of team and it was a awful feeling. I questioned everything, I had 10 prep schools accept me and provide me with a scholarship and I dweled on my decision. I wasn’t taking ownership of my situation. Mentally I was having a tough time but I came back and had a great playoff, playing my best hockey in the Prep School Championship game against Dexter, which we won KUA’s first of many New England Prep School Championships and I got offered by many Junior A programs after the season electing to play close to home for the Boston Jr. Bulldogs in the AJHL.

The next year would be yet another challenging year as I suffered yet another serious concussion and dislocation of my jaw. This time it was even worse and another year I worked so hard for had come to an end. After the season I told my coach I did not want to continue Junior Hockey and I wanted to go play NCAA even if it was Division 3. I didn’t want to use my last year Junior, I wanted to play College and get back to working on my education. He called me a week later with a couple offers and I decided to attend a small private Division 3 College with a up and coming new program, a perfect fit for me. I knew I had to work hard and it wouldn’t be easy but no matter what happens I will be the hardest worker. I was determined and focused and I ended up as a 3 Year Starter, Team Captain, Leading Goal Scorer, MVP, and had success off the ice as a Academic All-American. This what I visioned as success for myself. I understood now if it wasn’t for my struggles I wouldn’t have had found success in College. Those difficult times prepared me mentally and I was focused and grateful for any opportunity. It didn’t matter anymore, nothing phased me whether I got benched for a period or put on the 3rd line. I didn’t complain, I just worked harder and stayed positive the best I could. I knew at the end of the day I held my key to success or failure. Trust me it was still hard at times but I developed mental strength in my difficult years. I learned through the downs of my hockey career not the highs- do I wish those concussions and injuries didn’t happen?

The answer is No. It is all part of the plan as an athlete and you need to have ups and downs. I remember playing my Senior Year in College as a Team Captain, I was proud and it meant a lot to me to be a College Captain. It also made me realize pushing through the adversity was all worth it. I felt complete- everyone has different goals but looking back to my younger self this is definitely how I pictured success. Although I set a goal of playing Division 1 it did not matter. Being a College Captain, at the top of the scoring list, and being named to the All-Academic team was my definition of success. In Division 3, the talent is excellent and the compete level is high. You have to remember there is no Division 2 hockey, some claim Division 2 but they play mostly a Division 3 schedule and are not even in the top 15 programs in Division 3. Many fall through the cracks of Division 1, and I played many former top youth players in my age group in my College years. Many of them also serving as Captain for their school. It came full circle for me, these players in my eyes were amazing players, Division 1 talent, and as youth players they excelled. I still remember at 14 and 15 years old I traveled to USA hockey select festivals with many of them which only the top 20 of the youth hockey players in Massachusetts got selected. I realized they had the same path as me, ups and downs, and it was probably was not easy for them either but I am sure they would also say it was all worth it.

It was a great run. After my Senior year I signed with a agent and I received offers to play Professionally in the United States and Europe. I elected to sign in England and wanted to play a couple years over seas but after arriving I knew in my heart it was ready to move on. Now my passion and goal is to teach the game of hockey. It is hard today to be a coach, as many parents want only success for their child and I understand you want to protect your child. My problem is many parents do not want to let them fail at all and if they are benched, moved down a line, or corrected they immediately blame others. What is wrong with failing? Nothing. I wish when I was younger I had more failures, it is what can drive a player. It will not drive them if you continue to make excuses, blame others, and complain in front of them. Athletes need the talent but more important is the mental skills to climb the mountain. Failure is okay it will help them, if they continue their path in hockey it gets hard no matter how good of a youth hockey player your son/daughter is. As they climb the mountain they have to do it themselves and as you get closer to the top it gets extremely hard. Letting them deal with failure now will set them up for success. Failure is okay. At the end of the day sports are a micro version of life. Every athlete has to stop playing and most end early, it is about how you mentally prepare them to find success in life after sports, in all areas of life.