Youth hockey site rethinks kids’ team rankings

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

Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Rankings, said on his website Wednesday that the platform would no longer assign a numerical ranking to teams of kids under 12, explaining that the rankings contributed to an unhealthy approach to the game on the part of players. grown ups.

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

“The youth hockey community is not immune to these issues,” his message read. “And let’s be honest, rankings are a contributing factor when used in a negative and exclusionary way rather than as a training tool and scheduling resource.”

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

The website’s ability to curate and analyze a variety of statistical data on thousands of teams spanning age groups 9-18 has made it an indispensable resource for many in the youth hockey community.

In essence, it’s a sophisticated algorithm that predicts a team’s “performance index” and goal differential for any match it might play against any opponent in the database. Coaches and tournament directors routinely use the website to identify teams that are expected to be even and schedule games accordingly.

But critics have contended that the website’s ancillary practice of assigning a numerical rank to teams has fueled a primal instinct among many youth hockey stakeholders to climb the ranking ladder in a never-ending game of superiority.

In an interview, Lodin said the website would continue to provide the core data that helped inform scheduling decisions, such as win-loss records, game results and other statistics, while removing the rankings of its younger teams. The site ranked approximately 3,000 teams of children under the age of 12 during the most recent hockey season.

“We are taking steps that we believe make users more likely to use the site as intended, as a tool to help teams schedule appropriate levels of competition, as opposed to the detriment of hockey,” Lodin said.

Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, whom Lodin credited with the idea of ​​ditching the rankings and retaining the data that helps teams find balanced competition, called the move “a step in the correct address”. .”

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

USA Hockey’s Martel applauded the development.

“Hopefully this will take some of the pressure off,” he said. “We are a late developing sport. The best little kids are not the best kids later on. No one knows who is really good until after puberty.”

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