The inaugural semester of the hockey skills academy in Parry Sound is off to a tremendous start. The program is a partnership between Near North District School Board (NNDSB,) the Townships of Seguin and Parry Sound using Hockey Canada skills training. The academy gives students in Grades 8-12 at Parry Sound High School (PSHS) the chance to build hockey skills while earning a high school credit and the option of a Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) pathway in health and wellness.
The 22 students enrolled in the first semester bring a wide variety of skill levels and hockey experience and the program has something to offer all.
NNDSB Vice-Chair John Cochrane, who strongly advocated to bring this program to the hockey loving community of Parry Sound, said “the Board is dedicated to the support of students individual learning styles. We are proud of how the PSHS Hockey Academy creates opportunities for personal growth and encourages the development of healthy lifestyles and essential life skills through teamwork and mentorship.”
Qualified skills instructor and PSHS teacher AJ Wheaton, who leads the program explained the students have been busy and engaged since the first day of the semester.
“During our in-class sessions, students have been learning about individual hockey skills and tactics, practice planning, hockey philosophy and analyzing hockey videos,” Wheaton said. “They are also learning essential life skills like physical fitness, perseverance, time management, teamwork, and goal setting. Students will also be taking on leadership roles in this course. They will have an exciting assignment where groups will be designing, implementing, and leading a skills practice on the ice for their peers.”
During the week students spend Mondays in off-ice training consisting of fitness testing, floorball, and workouts. Tuesday through Thursday classes are spent at the rink where students engage in 50-minute skills testing and development practices. Fridays are in the classroom where students analyze hockey videos, work on hockey appreciation assignments and study hockey philosophy, rules, and awareness and engage in character and leadership learning. Wheaton said he hopes to take the group on hockey field trips and bring in some guest speakers as the semester progresses.
Students are benefitting not only from increased access to ice time but also from the focus on developing their individual skills.
All the on-ice drills are primarily designed to work on individual skills and tactics, Wheaton said. “This is something that you may not see as much off in a minor hockey practice, especially at older age groups. This is not a hockey team, it is a skills program, therefore we will not be working on team concepts or strategies such as breakouts, powerplays, etc. Instead, it will be all skills focused on things such as skating, puck handling, shooting, and passing.”
“Learning through sport offers students valuable lessons about teamwork, dedication, and the value of hard work. The hockey academy is a prime example of how innovative approaches to education benefit NNDSB students and exemplify the board’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning,” NNDSB Director of Education Craig Myles said.
Wheaton said the students are enthusiastic and excited to be part of the program and are excited to be able to come to school and talk about hockey and are appreciative of extra ice time to work on their skills. Wheaton also noted that he routinely receives positive comments related to the program from parents and community leaders in the Parry Sound area.
“For myself, the on-ice piece has felt pretty natural. I have been coaching a variety of minor hockey levels for the past 14 years, so being on the ice and organizing practices is something I have a passion for,” Wheaton said. “I have always had a focus of skill development and encouraging players to better understand the game in any practice I have run in the past. I love the game and to be able to come to work and not only get onto the ice with the students but also talk about and discuss a shared passion is a very rewarding experience.”
Wheaton hopes the program will be as rewarding for students and foster a similar lifelong passion for the game.
“We are having issues with player retention in Canada, especially at the older age groups and in small towns. A program like this, run through the school, will hopefully encourage more players to continue being engaged and improving their skills,” Wheaton said. “The baseline goal of any hockey program, especially this one, is for the kids to have fun and develop into life-long hockey players. A specialized program like this is hopefully just the start of something big at Parry Sound High School.”
NNDSB is in the planning stages in partnership with the Township of Seguin to offer this exciting program involving Parry Sound High School and Humphrey Elementary School in semester two.