Every hockey player starts their development somewhere. In Winnipeg, there’s no better place to start than with the Jets Hockey Development (JHD) 3v3 Grassroots Hockey program at hockey for all centre.
The program, which includes U7 and U9 categories and runs on Sunday afternoons from October to December, is the perfect place for girls and boys of all skill levels to improve their game in a fun-filled atmosphere.
That was the case for young hockey player Raeleigh. When she started in the program, she could barely skate. But the experienced coaches gave her everything she needed to improve – including some encouragement.
“Raeleigh went into this program unsure and even wanted to quit after the first practice, but the coach went over and assured her she would love it if she continued, and he did not fail to deliver,” said Jennifer Wityshyn, Raeleigh’s mother. “Raeleigh ended the program with such confidence in herself. We couldn’t have asked for more. She went from barely being able to skate with a hockey stick to being able to puck handle, and her skating skills greatly improved.”
That’s what the program is all about to Dean Court, Business/Amateur Hockey Development & Manager of Team Programs for JHD. It’s a place where any kid can be involved, no matter what their on-ice skills are, and it’s a place where all of them will get better.
“We’re not coaching these kids with the purpose of winning, we’re coaching with the purpose of developing,” said Court. “Our goal is to build players’ confidence and abilities so that they can have fun at whatever level they’re at.”
That’s all done through a focus on individual development and ensuring everyone gets plenty of reps in each drill. With a maximum of 24 kids on the ice for a session, each practice sees the ice divided into three sections – one section to work on skating, one section to work on skill development, and one for a game.
“You get everything in one session,” noted Court. “That’s key for kids at this age. They’re getting to work on their skills every week, but we also want them to have fun along the way, so we make sure they all get to try out their skills in a game atmosphere too. We even bring Mick E. Moose onto the ice occasionally for some added excitement.”
For Wityshyn, that element of fun was the difference maker for her daughter in growing her self-belief on skates.
“The instructors went above and beyond to make sure Raeleigh was comfortable and having fun. Watching her confidence grow was something we will never be able to thank the program enough for.”
As fun as it is for the kids to grow their game and become better hockey players, the coaches – including Court – have just as much fun guiding them.
“This program is the most fun coaching that I do,” said Court. “The kids have such a pure love of the game and show so much excitement in every small development step they make. It’s a joy to give them the tools to go where they want in hockey.”