Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Junior Success a Curse?


There is a major hangover in Ottawa this week. It's not snow related, or transit strike related. (Those both suck in a major way however... I'm angry)

This past month, Ottawa has been host to the World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament was a major success in many ways. The home team won in an exciting final. The tournament was memorable and there was plenty of stars discovered. Slovakia and Kazakhstan teams were adopted as local favorites. The economic impact of the tournament is estimated to be about $50 million.

I've personally been hooked on the tournament for years, and for many reasons. The timing during the holidays is great. It's a chance to see future stars. And if you put national jerseys on players, I'm instantly interested. (i.e. North American fans watching FIFA World Cup). One of my favorite parts of the tournaments is looking at the tournament history and seeing which stars of the pasts have made it in the professional leagues, and what happened to those who disappear after junior glory.

What the hell happened to Daniel Tkaczuk, Christian Dube, Mike Craig, and Brent Tully? It might simply be a case that these players lack the physical gifts to move to the next level, but were able to compete at an all star level in juniors because of efforts/intelligence/promotion.

Of course, my thoughts turn to ultimate and its juniors. I think its fantastic that we have world junior competitions, and that Canada is a team that challenges for the championship in both mens and womens. I also think it is a little disturbing that many of the players selected to represent Canada did not move on to the club level, and fail to show the progress and success that such a nod would promise.

I understand that life gets in the way for many junior stars in ultimate. That being said, I wonder our expectations should be with our Juniors:

  • What should be the acceptable graduation rate for these players?
  • What standards should we set for our coaches and team selection groups?
  • Should we be concerned with the recent performance of our juniors, and should we be willing to make changes to keep ourselves competitive as the world seems to catch up?
In hockey, a brief time of failure (1998-2001) lead Hockey Canada to critically analyze and redevelop how players were developed and how players were selected. I was particularily impressed by how thorough Hockey Canada looked for and found the selection camp and eventual team roster (They don't just pick 1st round entry draft picks or leading scorers in juniors anymore) . Is it time for Canada to be more proactive in juniors development?


Taylor said...

Nice post Steven. I definitely think we should do a better job to promote higher level ultimate to the juniors. How? I don't really know. I've tried to help out where possible with high school tourneys etc. Some great volunteers from Torontula ran the RADD program this spring which hit 50 schools in a 5 weeks to do sessions in gym classes. I think there might have been a similar program in Ottawa as well. But how do you work with the TOP juniors? I'd say incorporate them in the club system as much as possible. Top club teams should invite these players to practice with them periodically to get them invested in the system. Teams could also run a tournament where the top players play amongst the kiddies. Get them excited about playing club. What's more exciting than playing with the top guys in your city?

lank89 said...

When looking at development at the top juniors i think we should look to the country that is currently ahead of us in development and that is the US. the biggest thing as taylor mentioned is getting jrs into the club system as early as possible. The US runs their club championships and youth championships at different times so that there is the possibilty for JRs to play both. where as in Canada they have to make the choice and most will choose jrs because you can only play in that category for so many years. I personally made the choice of playing open in my last year of jr eligibility and i do regret that i missed my last year of jrs with my friends but i feel it did make me a better player. so we need to have a system where jrs dont have to make that decision and can play jrs and open/womens/mixed at the same time

Sport Management Steven said...

I like the idea of top clubs helping players at the junior age develop. However, given other people opposing juniors leaving early, it might be a future post/topic in itself.

Just at a high level, I think any type of analysis has to involve the following

-Youth Programs
-League Development Programs
-School Programs and Recruitment
-National Evaluation and Team Selection
-Coaching Selection and Evaluation

T1000 said...

Let's clarify the problem. When you mention that "many of the juniors" haven't moved on to club ultimate, how many do you really mean, Steve? In particular, how many of the Team Canada Juniors do we lose?

One counter-opinion:
We often tout playing time alongside "the top players" as the fast-track to skills advancement in almost every division and context in Canadian. I think it's a tempting banner to follow for three reasons:
(a) there are not many of us, and so the few, dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled coaches are also probably well-respected clubs players.
(b) it preaches a charitable, give-to-the-future attitude that is hard disagree with
(c) for most of us at the table, this philosophy worked for us -- we got taken in by a team at the right time, and learned from the examples and challenges of some very good players

But while appealing, this thinking is not easily expandable. Right now, it takes place on a rather limited scale, and it relies on the generosity, patience and resources of the clubs. The clubs can integrate a few of the best juniors (those who can already hold their own on the club scene), but they cannot take on many more. And after all, we're clearly not satisfied with the status quo, right?

I would like to see more development in on the high school front in Canada, because I honestly think it's an easier end of the pyramid to organize. There are considerably more high schools in Canada than there are universities, so there's more fertile ground for setting up sectional, regional, and maybe national competition (like in the U.S.).

If we develop more high school teams, we'll farm more juniors, and gradually, more juniors at a higher calibre. Then, I think we'll see the number of university and club teams multiply to accomodate them. In summary, if we get more juniors interested, maybe we can build a farm programme from the bottom up. The idea is not without its challenges, but it might help.

lank89 said...

i dont really know if these two components are directly related but it seemed that once a legitimate high-school championship was created the high-school ultimate really took off in the states. It went from one championship for the whole country one year with 16 East and West championships the both championships getting over 30 applications for each. it was a fast and big expansion and maybe the thought of a championship would create more teams.

Druski said...

Re: juniors hockey: I could care less about graduation rate. Al watch lately isJuniors and Olympics... and Canada seems to be winning both.. so I'm happy :)

Re: Ulti:
Well, that's more relevant. Juniors advancement here is an issue but different in some respects than the US (unless we can solve the dual problems of geography and climate)... Canadian Juniors have a shorter season for high school than the US and for most kids less college/uni opportunities as well due to distance and a shorter playing season.

I think with respect to the U.S., Canada has less of a structure for college development.. but as good or better development for high school if we can develop it properly. Provincials in every province and then nationals with prov. champs would allow both regional and national development. A national only scope limits development to those who are considered 'in contention' (the rest do not bother organising, and weaken the field). I like the idea of having a dual championship structure: HS provincial champs during the school year, national juniors champs during the summer.

Of course the juniors coordinators will have already considered this.. but worth thinking over to make sure it benefits the whole system, including juniors.

Taylor said...

Not exactly the correct spot to post this, but I just wanted to thank everyone for coming to TO this weekend for the first ever Tula Invite. We had 90+ players from various Ontario universities playing on 5 hat teams. The goal of the tournament was to strengthen the university ultimate community in the East. Each team was led by 4 or 5 GOAT players, which gave the students great exposure to high level ultimate. We ended it all off with a (short) GOAT vs World scrimmage.

Thanks to all who came out and I would encourage anyone to organize a similar event. It's easier than you might think and the interest from players is clearly there. These are the first steps in developing a stronger Canadian university system. If anyone has any suggestions for future events please let me know (