Hockey is not a full-time commitment for the kids who participate in Wildcats Hockey in Riverside, California.
“The younger ages that play baseball, soccer and football, we encourage that,” said Ben Frank, the association president. “We have options in the spring but specifically make it a point to encourage athletes to play other sports.
“Some kids play on other teams and miss a hockey practice. We’re supportive of that. We want them to play other sports. We know that’s going to create fewer chances of burnout and enable them to become better hockey players.”
That approach, supported by USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has worked for the Wildcats.
Frank and his wife, Joyce, started the Wildcats in 2011, after having moved to the area from Canada. Frank, who had been a Junior A and college player in Canada, began working at a roller hockey rink and eventually transitioned to an ice hockey coaching role with the team known then as the Anaheim Wildcats.
“Hockey was an extreme passion in our lives,” he said. “We shared the passion for youth sports and the role they played in our lives. In 2011, we made the decision to go from running clinics to starting the Wildcats.
“We started offering tournaments. From 2011-14 we started to develop what kind of organization we wanted to be.”
A big part of that vision involved embracing the ADM. The Wildcats have since become a USA Hockey Model Association and are affiliated with the Positive Coaching Alliance. Model Associations are those that have fully committed to implementing the ADM’s age-appropriate, age-specific skill development throughout the 8U, 10U and 12U ranks.
Embracing these guidelines was easy for the Wildcats, who were determined to give kids a chance to develop to their full potential and to give them every possible resource to do so.
“Rather than wins or losses, with age-appropriate development we wanted to focus on families,” Frank said. “We thought the PCA evolved the off-ice things regarding what we wanted to stand for in terms of the culture of the organization. We wanted it to be a breeding ground for kids to develop life skills.
“Hockey was such an important part of our lives. We wanted to make sure we had the same effect on kids. We want to give every kid the opportunity to be successful not only as a hockey player but also as a person.”
For the Wildcats to be successful, the association emphasized skill development, not a win-at-all-costs mentality, to its coaches.
“For the leadership group, it hasn’t been difficult at all,” Frank said of the Wildcats philosophy. “It took a re-focusing on what was important. I took a step back and decided what type or organization we wanted to be. Once that was clear, we realized what the purpose of the organization is.
“From the leadership perspective, we don’t have any internal battles. As for communicating that to parents, it’s an ongoing process. It’s our job to communicate the message regarding what’s best for their kids.”
Frank said the ADM has lined up perfectly with what the Wildcats have been trying to accomplish.
“As for the players, it’s been 100 percent positive,” Frank said. “The younger kids have had more fun than ever playing hockey. Our practice attendance has gone up. We have three practices per week, and the boys seem to be enjoying the sport a lot more. We believe in keeping kids engaged, moving and smiling.”
The Wildcats received the Model Association designation before this past season. It’s a decision Frank does not regret one bit.
“It’s great for us to have the backing of USA Hockey along with the resources that our regional manager sends us,” Frank said. “That support has accelerated the process of education for parents in terms of communicating well with them. … I knew it was going to take some time to get everybody on board. But it’s happened so quickly. We do surveys with parents regarding satisfaction and this year it’s been off the charts.”