TORONTO – Day two of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit moved over to the Air Canada Centre for a morning session whose theme was developing the game. On hand were seven men of varying experiences and backgrounds who brought an enormous breadth of opinion to the stage. The themes ranged from physical development to body-checking and body contact which turned out to be to the most discussed topic.
First up was Dr. Steve Norris, a British sports scientist and long-time resident of Calgary. He brought to light scientific evidence about how a child develops, how a nation’s program develops, and how the two are necessarily connected.
“Long-term player development is a process,” Norris started. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, there are three aspects that dictate the success of a sport – population size, financial support for the sport, strong social-cultural-political values.”
Norris pointed to Australia at the Summer Olympics in the 1970s as a turning point for that country’s swimming program. After terrible results, it pumped a small fortune into its swimming program, and a quarter of a century later, the nation dominated in the pool when it hosted the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Norris then changed direction and moved from the general observation about a nation’s sports program to the individual development of an athlete. After all, it is all those individuals who together form a national program. So how do we develop an athlete? How do we take a new-born baby and turn him into an athlete who may – MAY – develop into a very successful athlete.
Norris started at the beginning, describing the development of a child. Of course, he says, the most important two factors of a baby’s development is the behaviour of its parents and the exposure the parents give to the child. “This should scream out to you that you must expose the child to everything that will help the child develop skills, whether its sports or reading and culture.”
An athlete has four stages to his development – child, juvenile, youth, adult. And with each stage in life, there is a commensurate issue of development. There is the initial exposure to something that requires physical skill and hand-eye coordination. Then comes a period of basic skill development. After that, an athlete spends time developing a love of the game and learns the specifics of a sport. And finally, an athlete spends a decade or more honing his skills and developing into a high-performance athlete.
However, Norris cautions, he sees in Canada a movement away from developing that love of the game to a more formal, business-type approach which denies the child that period of “playing” and enjoying a sport to merely trying to develop into a professional.
“We’ve moved away from creativity, affordability, and accessibility, to a sport where you need expensive facilities even just to practice.”
Norris stresses the need for a radical psychological shift in how that “nation” approaches sport to develop a culture that not only produces pro athletes but also develops the game.
“We need not only to be world-class, but world leading. We need to be cutting edge. We need to be constantly changing and developing. “
“What it takes to become a champion may be different from what it takes to be a champion.”