Instead of lecturing to parents about the value of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, St. Jude Knights Girls’ Program Director Jackie Wedster-Kooistra came up with a different idea.
“When we first started two or three years ago [with the ADM], some parents were so on board with what you say is best for their kids, they give you full range to develop their kids,” Wedster-Kooistra said.
“But I had two half-ice teams at one time. I had parents in the stands track how many touches, how many shots, how many passes and how much interaction there was. Then, I had them play full-ice games, and it literally was like night and day.”
Suffice it to say that cross-ice won over the parents in the in Crestwood, Illinois, association who had doubts about the ADM.
“You always get, ‘How are they going to learn what offside is?’” Wedster-Kooistra said. “That can be taught easily. Transition, puck possession and shooting technique must be taught before you get into offside.
“If they can’t skate, they’re not going to be offside.”
The St. Jude girls’ program is in its infancy, with just an 12U team to its name. But given the steps taken by Wedster-Kooistra, growth is on the horizon.
“We have a U12 team that competes at an extremely high level,” Wedster-Kooistra said. “I’ve been with the advanced girls for a couple of years trying to build the program.
“Next year we’ll be able to have a U10 and U12 team because the word is out. There’s a huge buzz around the south side.”
One thing Wedster-Kooistra did to help create “a huge buzz” was hold a Girls’ Hockey Day that included a visit from 2010 U.S. Olympian Lisa Chesson.
“We had such an amazing turnout at the Girls’ Hockey Day,” said Wedster-Kooistra, a former player at the University of New Hampshire and for age-group U.S. national teams. “The girls absolutely loved it. I tried to make it a fun environment and my friend, Lisa Chesson, brought her silver medal. The turnout was better than I thought it would be. Over 70 girls came out to promote the event.”
In addition to the 12U girls’ team, St. Jude also has learn-to-skate and learn-to-play programs to introduce younger players to the game. The learn-to-skate program is open to girls who are at least 2 years old, but most are between 3 and 8.
“The buzz is unreal,” Wedster-Kooistra said. “I came to a learn-to-skate session and was so surprised at the number of new girls who joined. There are 12 new girls in learn-to-skate alone who’re trying to get ready for next season.
“They’re all joining together and embracing it. We have pink helmets and jerseys. We participate in the Stick it to Cancer Tournament every year in Minnesota. Last year we had special jerseys made with the breast cancer awareness symbol on them.”
Once girls graduate from learn to skate, they move onto the learn-to-play program, where they can remain until they’re 10 years old. At that stage, girls are introduced to the ADM.
“I follow the ADM program to a T,” Wedster-Kooistra said. “It’s wonderful. It’s revolutionary. It’s going to change hockey.”
In Wedster-Kooistra’s opinion, the fact St. Jude has embraced the ADM has made it easier not only to retain girls but also to recruit new ones to join.
“I think wholeheartedly that’s the case,” she said. “I’ve seen so many new faces from Girls’ Hockey Day alone. They all ask me, ‘Where do I go from here?’ My answer is, ‘We’re developing here first, and then you’re going to be my all-stars.’
“We really want to develop our girls’ program. It’s a matter of giving them the tools to succeed.”