Guest Post: The Future of Youth Hockey in Russia
First day of training for children at KHL club Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg’s hockey school.
I am very happy to welcome again Tomáš Vorčák, from whom we heard recently on the subject of the KHL and the European Champions Cup tournament. This time, Mr. Vorčák is looking into plans for revitalization of Russia’s national programs for hockey development at the youth level; it is interesting stuff, so read on!
Vladislav Tretyak was re-elected as President of Russian Hockey Federation (FHR) in June 2014; his opponent was Vyacheslav Fetisov. One year later, in August 2015, the FHR´s governing bodies were changed. The FHR´s Board became the most powerful organization in Russian hockey, and Arkady Rotenberg was appointed its head. Some of the FHR´s employees left the organisation and new ones came to the office. Tretyak has stayed the President, but real power has been executed by Rotenberg´s people since this time. He stated that the FHR had not cared about hockey development in Russia before, and that his vision has been to change this attitude.
The FHR has been preparing a major reform of Russian children’s and youth hockey. To this topic was devoted the meeting of the Presidential Council for the Development of Physical Culture and Sports. The meeting took place on April 22 2016 in Kazan and was chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Two main areas were defined: 1. The FHR´s role to develop children’s, youth and grassroots hockey , 2. Decreasing of the financing of professional (KHL) sport clubs from the budgets of state companies or regional governments. The money, which was used for financing of professional sport clubs before, should be invested into development of children’s and youth hockey (and sport in general).
If speaking about grassroots hockey, Russia’s key problem is the lack of hockey/ice rinks. “We had 140 ice rinks in our country ten years ago, now we have 583 ice rinks, but it is still not enough if comparing to leading hockey countries. For example, we have 40 ice rinks in Republic of Tatarstan alone, but only 5 to 7 rinks in some regions and six regions have no ice rinks in their territory,” said Vitaly Mutko, Minister of Sports at the time (source 1). The Russian Federation has 85 federal subjects. Russia as state and federal subjects will participate in the construction of hockey rinks and multipurpose sports fields across the country after the FIFA World Cup of 2018. Russia will host the tournament. Companies which will decide to invest in the construction of sports facilities should be exempted from tax. “We need to build at least 50 ice rinks and set up more than 100 hockey schools throughout the country. And thousands of universal sports facilities, which can be used by other sports all year round. That will increase the amount of children playing hockey, ” said Arkady Rotenberg (source 2).
Another problem of Russian hockey is that there are not enough jobs for players aged 20-24, so they have to quit hockey instead of developing their skills. That is also one of the reasons why they choose to play abroad. I am talking about college hockey and the lower senior leagues in Russia. The FHR has decided to develop college hockey by building ice rinks for universities and launching a national Student Hockey League in the 2016/2017 season. Russia had regional student hockey leagues before of course, but the new League has been governed by the FHR and has unified all regions. Russia did the same thing with junior hockey a few years ago when the MHL was launched. The FHR has taken control of such lower leagues as the MHL-B (now the NMHL) and the Pervenstvo VHL (3rd tier senior hockey) since 2016/2017. Both leagues were under the KHL’s control and were a financial burden, so the KHL delegated them to the FHR. And the Federation will control development of regional and grassroots hockey while governing the leagues. The KHL delegated the control of referees to the FHR before the current season as well.
The FHR has launched a united hockey system and coaching for all national teams (U16-U20, Men, Women), and the National Olympic Team was created. Its role is to be a bridge between the national junior team and the men´s national team. All national teams (U16 and elder) are fully professional now, including analysts, stats, scouts, and doctors. All national teams have the same services and all national teams play the same style of hockey, to make it easier for players to adapt to the system when crossing from the younger national team to the elder. The FHR has launched an application for sharing information between coaching staff and players throughout the season.
The most important point is, of course, the method of education of young players and coaches. Because you cannot train great players if you don’t have a good coach. “According to our analysis, Russia lacks a minimum of 6000 coaches, plus those working at the moment do not always have the necessary qualifications,” said Arkady Rotenberg (source 3). The problem is that coaches have low wages, so they tend to provide additional training sessions for kids, and parents pay them. This encourages corruption. There are cases when one coach holds training sessions for 60 or 70 kids at the same time, so it is impossible to pay attention to every kid. The reason for this is that there are not enough coaches and the ice rink is shared with other age groups or other sportsmen (skating etc). The hockey reform consists of education of children´s coaches, including child psychology.
“At the moment (August 2015) we are doing research and analyzing international experience. We are translating Swedish, Canadian and American hockey programs of player development. We will take the best from abroad, but we will rely on our experience and traditions. We have many great coaches in our country, but unfortunately, they work in an uncoordinated manner. We will collect their experiences and create a modern hockey development program, which applies to the whole country, ” said Arkady Rotenberg (source 4). There are two major goals of the reform: First, to launch a united methodology for the whole country, because now the methodology differs from region to region. And second, to focus on player´s skills instead of results of the matches. “The most important thing is to reorient the thinking of coaches, and especially hockey school directors, from focusing on results to proper development of the players. It is not a secret that coaches use the most talented players during matches, because they value the results more than development of the players, so other kids are sitting on the bench. The result of the coach’s work should NOT be how many games he has won with 10-12-year-olds, but how many national team players and professional players he has developed,” said Arkady Rotenberg (source 5) and added, “we should not sit and wait until new Ovechkins, Malkins or Datsyuks have appeared. Because they were, are and will always be present in our large country. We are obligated to scout and prepare every individual as a world class player. We should develop the potential of the less talented players too – to teach them the game of hockey, skating and hockey skills. And the coaches’ task is to decide if a player is better suited for the position of defenceman or forward. The same applies to goalkeepers too, for them it is necessary to focus on their individual technique, theory and gaming habits.” (source 6)
To sum it up. The new national hockey program is called “Russian Hockey Academy.” Some of the principles of the program were published by the FHR in its 2015/2016 Year Review (source 7).
- Construction of hockey rinks
- Creation of a unified methodology for each age group which will be applied in all hockey schools in Russia. Regional managers will control the process of application of the program. Focus on proper development of the players instead of match results. Creation a guide to hockey training (on & off ice) for every day of the season and every age group, including a video guide. The program includes criteria for each age group and position, individual and team tactics and strategy, united tactics for everyone, playing other sports (soccer, basketball etc) as part of development, home training sessions (15-20 minutes), and recovery plan for players. They plan to focus on the mental preparation of players and control of their health and nutrition.
- Education of coaches and referees, including their salaries.
- Guide for parents.
- National register of hockey players, coaches, hockey schools and other facilities.
- Launching of regional hockey centers (academies), including a National Hockey Center.
The FHR´s role is to decrease or stop the exodus of young Russian players abroad, especially to Canadian and American junior leagues, if they want to fully impose the reform. Likely, they won’t ban the players from leaving the country, but will instead try to create an environment for proper development at home. And they are considering a system under which a prospect should pay his native Russian club for development if he goes abroad.
“Russian prospects are leaving to North America´s junior leagues not only because they dream of playing the NHL. Many of them say they lack the necessary patience of Russian coaches, the roster spots are filled in many good clubs, and developing in other (not parent) clubs is really difficult. We won’t ban the players’ movement, especially because we have such experience from Soviet times,” said Arkady Rotenberg (source 8) and added: “the country finances the development of young players through hockey schools. But at a certain age, the agent comes and signs a contract with a prospect. It is necessary for the state to ensure, through some mechanism, the right for compensation if the prospect or his agent decides to play for foreign clubs.”(source 9)
Sources: fhr.ru, kremlin.ru
by Tomáš Vorčák