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Year after year, players keep coming back to Mission AZ

 

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There is a certain statistic that Mission AZ director of hockey operations Jeremy Goltz and his staff look at more closely than almost any other, but what it is may surprise you.

Wins are great, and championship banners and trophies keep players motivated to do their best on the ice. Goals, assists, saves and other stats are great for measuring individual players’ performance, but above all else, Goltz determines the program’s level of success by return rate.

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While many youth sports organizations experience significant turnover from season to season, with players coming and going to chase new opportunities elsewhere, Goltz said Mission consistently has around 90 percent of the program’s players returning each year. It’s a tremendous source of pride for him and everyone associated with Mission.

“There’s such a range in terms of how people define success in youth hockey from program to program,” Goltz explained. “Since we started Mission 14 years ago, we’ve done some pretty extensive tracking of how many kids return as well as where kids go if they leave, and why. When we look at that 90 percent return rate on average each year, that’s a big indicator to us that we’re doing a lot of things right.

“Our kids and their parents are happy. They’re buying into our vision, wearing one jersey and moving up through each level. It’s something I’m proud of and something that I think really defines our program.”

Mission iced nine teams during the 2018-19 season and plans to have the same number in 2019-20, giving them between 130 and 140 players of all ages wearing the program’s distinctive red and white sweaters. Less than 15 players from last season won’t return this year, and part of that can be explained by families moving out of the area or kids moving on to play AAA hockey in another area – in which case Goltz is happy to see the player move forward and advance his career at a higher level.

Along with keeping kids in the program and being able to help them continue developing their skills, there are a number of other benefits to having such a large percentage of players coming back year after year.

First, there is continuity in coaching. At each level, certain skills are taught and mastered, and when kids move up to the next level, they are ready to tackle new, more advanced skills.

There’s also the coaching philosophy that carries through from Mites to Midgets, so the foundation is continually built from one level to the next. If a lot of your players are new to the program each year, coaches can’t be sure what they have been taught previously, or how.

Familiarity is another benefit and having young hockey players move from level to level with most of the same teammates can be a major positive in their development and cohesion as a team. They also get to know their coaches well, and coaches get to know each individual player as well as how best to motivate them and get their best effort out of them.

“Each year at the end of the season, we sit down with each kid and spend some time talking with them about what they were happy with and unhappy with,” Goltz explained. “While we talk with them during the season, this is a great opportunity for us to go over with them their strengths and what they can work on to improve, but also for us to listen to their feedback and learn what they thought about our power skating program, or our dryland training, or anything else they may want to tell us about.

“We want to make sure we’re taking into account their input and making it a priority to continually make the Mission program better. I think if we keep doing that, we’ll continue to have that return rate that plays such a big part in defining our success.”

— Greg Ball

(July 29, 2019)