Since revamp four years ago, attendance has increased each year
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI
Four years ago, AHAI transitioned from its ordinary annual meeting and spiced it up a little bit. AHAI changed the name of its yearly gathering to the Association Leadership Conference, each word emphasizing part of an effort to get members more involved in the association as well as help the individual clubs grow.
“Our annual meeting before this was really generic and it was just the board members sitting up front giving some report, doing some business,” AHAI President John Dunne said. “We figured that it wasn’t a great opportunity. It was an opportunity missed and so as we’ve matured in this process getting into the leadership portion of it, it was putting a committee together this year to start it right when we finished last year. When we did a recap of last year’s [meeting], this committee got together and they thought it would be a good idea to rebrand it.
“It’s really about the leadership of the clubs and our purpose with USA Hockey and AHAI is to assist the clubs in making the best product that they can.”
This year’s conference will take place at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg on June 2.
The AHAI Board of Directors and its leaders noticed a trend nationwide that other states, including Wisconsin, run annual meetings in a similar conference-style format. It isn’t just a meeting where new board members are elected and laws are passed, there’s a bigger purpose for statewide associations to get involved with AHAI.
“We’re trying to get out of the legislative and governance side of it and more in the leadership and club improvement type stuff,” said AHAI Director and AALC Co-Chair Jim Clare. “Like, how do you develop the kids better from a hockey perspective? How do you handle off-ice issues? How do you grow the game? Just trying to focus on bigger things.”
The leadership conference begins at 8:30 a.m. and wraps up around 2:30 p.m. That doesn’t provide a lot of time, but amazingly enough, there’s plenty of valuable information crammed into that six-hour window.
A town hall-style forum with three speakers on stage will lead off the interactive portion of the day. AHAI implemented the town hall format two years ago after picking up the idea from a USA Hockey conference. Eight 45-minute breakout sessions will follow and give attendees a variety of topics to discuss. Clare stressed if associations bring multiple representatives to the conference, they can split up and hit all the sessions and then share what they learned with each other.
All the sessions are dedicated to specific topics, noted Dunne. In past years, sessions have included talk about girls-only topics as well as youth and high school discussions.
Association members — who can get more information on the event by emailing Dunne (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Clare (email@example.com) — love the opportunity to have interactive forums to foster some hard-hitting, meaningful debates.
“That’s part of the reason some of the sessions go long,” Dunne said. “The questions are usually good and it might not be a simple answer, so making sure we have the right facilitators in there to move things along is an improvement we’ve done. Hopefully, we can do even better at it this year.”
The conference wraps up every year with notable guest speakers. Last year, Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach and former USA Hockey National Team Development Program coach Don Granato spoke to the crowd. Dunne said the keynote speakers are saved until the very end to give attendees a highlight to stick around for at the end of the day.
“We put a lighter touch on what is a long day of meetings and topics,” Clare said.
This year, AHAI hopes to have two local hockey players who will take the stage: Kendall Coyne, from Palos Heights, played for the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and a member of the U.S. National Sled Team that won the gold medal at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Also speaking will be J.J. O’Connor, who is the chairperson of USA Hockey’s disabled hockey section.
Since the changeover to a conference format, the number of attendees has increased every year. Last year, about 270 people showed up, and Dunne is hoping to get 300 this June.
With the numbers continuing to grow, that means feedback on the conference and its topics has been solid. Using members’ thoughts on what was discussed and presented has been instrumental in helping shape how the conference runs year after year.
“Each year, the feedback’s been better,” Clare said. “They’re more open to giving us ideas and content and topics. Where before we just told them what we were going to talk about.”
Dunne is hoping to see a big crowd at the conference and is striving to get a main goal across to all the members.
“Our goal is that we’re here to help them, that there is a resource for them,” Dunne said. “There’s a face and a name of someone they can reach out to for help and that they know that the USA Hockey brand and the AHAI brand are there to help them. We’re on the same team and we’re trying to go in the same direction and have the same end goals.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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