Youth hockey site reconsiders ranking teams of children

A website that has shaped youth hockey in the United States and Canada, in part by ranking thousands of teams in both countries every week, has announced that it will stop the practice at the youngest league levels.

Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Rankings, said on his website on Wednesday that the platform would no longer assign numerical ranks to teams of children under the age of 12, explaining that rankings contributed to an unhealthy approach to the game by adults.

“Youth sports have become a rat race to the top among parents, coaches and clubs,” Lodin wrote. “There’s this ‘If you don’t keep up with the Joneses, do you even love your kid?’ mentality there is.

“The youth hockey community is not immune to these problems,” he said. “And let’s face it, rankings are a contributing factor when used in a negative and exclusive way rather than as a coaching and planning tool.”

In December 2021, MYHockey Rankings and its influence were the subject of an article in The New York Times. Ken Martel, the director of player development for USA Hockey, the sport’s governing body, said in the article that he feared the weight placed on rankings by some parents, coaches and youth hockey associations would have a detrimental effect on the development of players. players and the cost of playing. the game.

The website’s ability to collect and crunch a range of statistics on thousands of teams in the ages 9 to 18 has made it an indispensable resource for many in the youth hockey community.

At its core is a sophisticated algorithm that predicts a team’s “performance rating” and the goal difference of any game it could play against any opponent in the database. Coaches and tournament directors routinely use the website to identify teams that are expected to tie and schedule matches accordingly.

But critics have argued that the website’s additional practice of numerically ranking teams has fueled a primal instinct among too many youth hockey stakeholders to climb the rankings ladder in a never-ending game of one-upmanship.

In an interview, Lodin said the website would continue to provide the core data to help make scheduling decisions, such as win-loss records, game results and other stats, while eliminating the rankings for the youngest teams. The site ranked about 3,000 teams of children under the age of 12 during its most recent hockey season.

“We are taking action that we believe will be more likely for users to use the site as intended, as a tool to help teams plan appropriate league levels, as opposed to hockey’s disadvantage,” Lodin said.

Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, to whom Lodin attributed the idea of ​​getting rid of rankings while preserving the data that helps teams find well-matched competition, called the move “a step in the right direction .”

“It sends the message that development is more important than comparing children and teams that are still in the early stages of growth,” Farrey said.

Martel, of USA Hockey, applauded the development.

“Hopefully this will relieve a bit of the pressure,” he said. “We are a late developing sport. The best young children are not the best children later on. No one knows who is really good until after puberty.”

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