King Philip Walpole Youth Hockey is a non-profit USA Hockey-registered community hockey organization for boys and girls from Norfolk, Plainville, Walpole and Wrentham, with a tradition dating back more than 40 years.

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The 5 most important things I learned during the 2018-19 KPW season

The first and last games of the King Philip Walpole Youth Hockey season couldn’t have been more different — the 18UA team opened the season in August with a roster stocked with seniors who have worn the KPW Red, White and Blue for more than 10 years and now are planning for life after high school. The Girls U10 team was the last to take the ice, skating to a thrilling 3-2 loss to Quincy in the South Shore Conference 10UB championship game.

The eight months in between saw nearly 500 KPW players from age 5 through 18 take the ice, but now we wrap up the 2018-19 season while planning for a momentous season to come: 2019-20 will mark the 50th anniversary of our program’s history, a milestone few programs in New England have matched.

Before we put away the hockey gear and start pursuing warm-weather activities, I want to share the five lessons I learned as my sixth season as KPW president comes to an end, and some ideas for 2019-20:

Success comes in many forms
We are always glad to celebrate our teams’ success, and this season was no different: the 18U full-season and 10UB teams won South Shore Conference championships; the 8UB2 and girls 8U teams won their SSC group brackets; the 14UA and 12UB2 Blue teams won Waterville Valley Tournaments; and the Girls 12U team won the Falmouth Tournament title.

But for every banner a team brings home, we must remember to celebrate the hundreds of smaller and no less significant moments that don’t track on a scoreboard, whether it’s the 50 new players who completed their first season of Instructional hockey; the first KPW Hockey Fights Cancer weekend, which raised more than $2,500 for cancer research; the generosity of families who donated 2,000 pounds of food to our community food pantries; or the graduating high school girls players who were among the first to participate on KPW's girls teams.

As a non-profit, community-based youth recreation program, we are of, for and by the families in our communities, and we relish the experiences we all share together that make our communities better.

Every player's development journey is unique
Each player has a unique learning curve and, most sports scientists also would agree, a ceiling of natural talent. The challenge for every coach is determining how a player's learning curve, motivation and talent ceiling might intersect, so each player’s long-term development can be supported best within the broader context of a team’s maturity.

A very few players are truly elite, born with genetic gifts that will always keep them ahead of other players. Some players start skating young, develop a natural advantage early in life and plateau as they get older. Some players might start a little older and take a few years to develop their foundational skills, but accelerate their development as they age. Some players don’t have the drive needed to push themselves to their natural potential. Some players grow six inches over a summer and completely change their game. Some players never seem to hit a growth spurt. Some players are hyper-competitive. Some players are laid-back. Outgoing. Quiet. Aggressive. Reserved.

Just like in life, each player follows a unique path somewhere along this wonderful hockey journey, buffeted by myriad and unquantifiable physiological, social, academic, psychological and personal characteristics that shape who they are as a person, a child, a sibling, a student, a hockey player.

As parents, the most important role we can play in this journey is developing a realistic understanding of where our hockey player fits in, so we can collaborate with our coaches, teammates and other parents to provide an optimal experience for our children.

Coaching is key
Our coaches – all of them volunteers, like our team managers and board of directors – are the heart of our program, and one of the key reasons we will celebrate our 50th anniversary next season.

Some of our coaches are in their third decade coaching youth hockey, and some just completed their first season. Regardless of their experience, all would agree being a good coach first means being a good teacher, and just like teachers are constantly learning how to educate their students, so does our program work to improve our coaches’ knowledge so they can best develop our players.

As a USA Hockey affiliate, KPW's coaches must meet nationwide standards for coaching education, and KPW also is working on plans to expand our own preseason coaching sessions so we can be more closely engaged with our coaches throughout the season. Our goal is simple: We want each player to have a good coaching experience, and we are always working to improve how we support our coaches and how our coaches support our players.

We strive for clear communication at every level
KPW tries to emphasize the importance of clear communication between and among the board of directors, coaches, managers, parents and players. Backed by long-standing policies and processes from USA Hockey, Mass Hockey and KPW Hockey that establish how we run our program, we strive to be as open and forthright as possible, because given the time, money and emotion everyone invests in the hockey season, we know everyone deserves clarity and understanding.

The answers might not always be what everyone wants to hear, but we want to make sure everyone understands why decisions are made the way they are. Likewise, we try to economize the number of messages we send out, to make sure the information we do want to communicate is received as clearly as possible.

Skill development is the foundation for every player at every age
A locker room poster I remember from my high school sports days asserted ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ and I still can’t find any fault in that statement.

There is no such thing as too much hockey skill, whether we’re talking about skating, stickhandling, shooting, passing or any other technical capability. The most successful players are those who couple skill with speed, aggressiveness, teamwork and hockey intelligence, but first and foremost is a strong foundation of hockey skill that can be developed only through practice.

Regardless of our teams’ records each season, our program strives to encourage each player’s long-term development over the course of their hockey careers. To that end, we are looking at ways we can expand our partnership with Pro Ambitions, StopIt Goaltending and Goaltending Development Services in addition to working closely with our own coaches,  so each player’s skills development continues.

— Randy Yanoshak, King Philip Walpole Youth Hockey president