JMS Hockey Blog

JMS is a pickup hockey league

Month: April, 2010

Captain perspective on leveling

by barbaragarn

Guest blog by [url=]Lee Kimsey

Leveling–not to be confused with leavening.
For those who don’t know the term, leavening is the process by which a baker introduces a material, like yeast, into dough to produce gas that lightens the bread or batter. It’s what makes bread a light, fluffy foodstuff, as opposed to hard indigestible mass.

Leveling is the process by which JMS captains monitor individual skill sets to produce parity. Stopping, starting, turning, transitioning, stick handling and passing are examples of these skill sets. The effect is to lighten the tenor of the game. It’s what makes JMS a light, fluffy experience… as opposed to a hard indigestible mass.

Some seem to perceive skating at Level 1 or 2 in JMS s as a punishment or a personal failure. It’s almost as if some folks feel that they are being fenced in, not allowed to run with the rest of the herd. But it is these levels that make JMS what it is, they are unique and perhaps the most important levels in so many ways. They are not a punishment, they are a privilege.

They create an opportunity for a skater to develop hockey skills and to have the time to do it at whatever pace they’re capable of and comfortable with. These levels allow each of us to participate in a meaningful way. This is the primary goal of JMS. It is not a race to get to the top. It is an effort to place the participants where they belong and compete against the toughest competitor . . . themselves.

Every rink in town has some “open hockey” session during the week that will allow anybody with $12 and a stick to lace up the blades and play. I live in Brooklyn Park and they are running three sessions of “Adult Open Hockey” each week. But it is only at JMS that there is a governing body that says to some skaters “Sorry, your skill sets are not appropriate to play this session.”

The privilege of Level 1 and 2 is that it allows you to be an active participant as opposed to a roving spectator. The “fence” is not there to keep you in, it’s there to keep others out. The barriers erected between levels are what make the game accessible to each skater.

A couple of years back I got involved with another pick-up group that had nothing to do with JMS. They were nice folks and as always, the hockey was fun. Several of the skaters were former high school players and one was even a former Division 1 college player. (On a side note, he and I collided at center ice one night and we both went flying . . . the “weeble” did not wobble that night, it fell down!) My point is that it was a struggle, if not an impossibility for me, to keep up with the flow of play within this group. I was a human pylon, all I needed was an orange jersey to make the scenario complete.

As a JMS captain, I don’t think a session goes by where I am not approached by a skater with the request, “Can you evaluate me for Level 3?” While I am never offended by such requests, the request itself is often a sign that they are not ready to move. I don’t say this to ward off future requests. I will always watch when asked.

But I think I can best explain with this illustration: Every morning a lion awakens with the knowledge that in order to survive, he must be faster than the slowest gazelle. Every morning each gazelle awakens with that same knowledge! I cannot watch 21 skaters–no one can, well maybe Barbara can with her notepad filled with sock and jersey colors! It is, however, very easy to spot the fastest lion or the slowest gazelle. Players who are incorrectly placed usually create their own flow. They are generally out of sync with the flow of the game around them.

I hate it when I see Level 1 and 2 referred to as “lower levels.” We have to call the levels something in order to distinguish them from each other and unfortunately those labels tend to create a quasi value system. Even if we called them red, blue, green, orange and purple, we would by our very nature assign a value to each of them that isn’t really what I believe JMS is about. Each skater is equally important and it is the goal and duty of the community leaders to place them in a game environment where they can best explore and exploit their potential.

When I talk with other captains I am always amazed at how often we agree on the relative abilities of skaters. I appreciate their opinions and often consult them when I am looking at a particular skater. We all work together to make this the best experience it can be. We are not trying to punish, restrain or fill sessions for financial purposes when we turn a skater down on a level change request.

It is my pleasure to recommend a skater for a move and I share that personal achievement with them because I got to see it. I participated in it.

We are not all of a piece. For a variety of reasons, each of us might spend more time at one level or another, some of us may never develop the skill set to make that next transition. Perhaps we’re out of shape, too old or eat way too much pasta (perhaps both!) to become lean, fast and maneuverable! I’ve been at Level 2 for well over a year myself and I’m not disappointed by that because I have a place to go where I can be successfully competitive. Like Coach Tony always told me, “You’re not sittin’ at home on the couch, you’re out there doin’ it . . . YOU’RE PLAYIN’ HOCKEY !!!”
And that’s A-OK with me.

BG note: Lee sent me this blog several weeks ago and it was after reading it that I decided people needed to know more about the leveling up process, so I wrote the [url=]Levels Demystified blog. Lee’s probably could have run first–he realized the need for explanation and I’m glad he did– but I figured the grand explanation was in order before we delved into perspectives on it. Hope this is useful.

Play with the NHLers

by barbaragarn

On May 1, a local group will host a hockey game fundraiser for the National MPS Society, which helps families cope with a group of genetic diseases that typically affect children.

The game and following gala will have many NHL alumni players (Brad Maxwell, Joe Dziedzic, Jack Carlson, Tom Younghans, Jon Rohloff and many more). You can PLAY with the NHLers for $300 (any skill level welcome!), or give a free-will donation at the door to watch. The postgame gala tickets are $125 and the event will feature a silent auction, music and fun. The game fee also includes two tickets to the gala.

Hope Madsen is organizing the event; she met Todd Harkins (former Calgary Flame) at a national MPS conference in December. Harkins’ son has an MPS condition similar to Madsen’s daughter. For the last seven years, Harkins and his wife have organized an MPS hockey fundraiser event in Vancouver.

Interested in playing or attending? You must register by April 27 (online) or April 23 (via post). There are NO presale tickets to only watch the game–they will take donations at the door.

For more information, visit[] or e-mail Hope Madsen at hmadsen (at} cyberoptics {.) com
More information about MPS [url=]here.

Levels Demystified

by barbaragarn

I’ve realized that everyone isn’t aware of the way we set levels at JMS. Weeks ago, one of the captains e-mailed me his perspective on the level situation and that made me realize I need to tell folks how it’s done.

It’s true I don’t like to talk about the level change process, but only because talking about it makes a lot of people who are just fine where they are, think it’s time to move up, and explaining over and over admittedly gets old.

So, bearing in mind that this blog will invite a tsunami of requests, I will explain the level assessment process here. Captains, thank you for all you do–like me, you will be engulfed in the coming wave and I thank you ahead of time for your wonderful help.

When JMS started, there was only one level–probably very close to today’s Level 1. Eventually, those folks got better and the beginners needed a safe place to play their game. So I created a second level–and this meant I had to start watching parity. Because I knew everyone and went to every session (and the league’s daily chores were smaller and fewer), I handled all the level change requests personally.

When someone new joined JMS Hockey, their account was on hold until I could contact the new skater and ask about her or his experience–discussing level placement. You’d be surprised how many people initially described themselves as BEGINNER only to later say, “Well, I played up to Bantams as a kid, but I’m 45 now so I’m a beginner again, right?” Keeping those guys out of Level 1 and reassuring them that they would be JUST FINE at a higher level took a lot of time. And it still does.

As the league grew, I started asking the captains when skaters questioned me about moving up. The e-mails back and forth could cause problems when someone wanted access to a new level RIGHT NOW. Captains also sent me an e-mail after each session and let me know if someone needed a level adjustment.

These days, Andy has written software to make the process more efficient. New players complete the online assessment, which looks at experience and skills. We spent a lot of time on it and are very proud when people tell us it’s right on. And of course, we’re always learning and tweaking it to be better, more accurate.

Sometimes people are “Minnesota Modest” in their answers to the online assessment, and their initial level placement is too low. We have to explain that JMS Hockey is not like other leagues–that we’re geared to adult novice rec players, and even though the skater may have placed high on the survey, even the “high” levels aren’t very “high” compared to most pick-up hockey in Minnesota. We do a lot of reassuring to people before their first skate. On the other end of the spectrum, some folks think they’re Hot Stuff, but don’t have the actual skills to back up their perception. (Sadly, we all know people like this.) But for most folks, the survey works great.

But the survey is only the first assessment tool. The hard-working, helpful, passionate and meticulous captains are the other part; it is one of their responsibilities to watch the parity at the session. If someone’s survey answers don’t jive with their on-ice skills, the captains usually notice very quickly and we make an adjustment after that first session. Another benefit to managed parity is that outliers are all the more obvious in a homogeneous environment.

After a session, the captain logs into the JMS website, where they can let me know any level adjustments. Sometimes captains ask that I have another captain give a second opinion about a level move. People have good nights and bad nights, and we want to get the right picture. I know I should stop being surprised at how well the system works… but it always makes me smile when two captains have exactly the same assessment–very reaffirming of our decision.

And so that’s the organized level process. If we haven’t already moved you to a new level, it’s because the level you’re at right now is a good fit.

Sometimes–particularly when a friend or a teammate moves up–people will fill out a Change Level Request Form (Yes, it’s on the upper right of the main page when you’re logged in; PLEASE reread the part in bold above before you go fill it out). I review the person’s record to see if the captains have said anything… almost always I find that the person asking to move up is just fine at their current level. Like I wrote above, there are systems in place to track when it’s time to move. If you haven’t heard from us about a move, it’s because it’s not time for one. And so MOST people who ask to move up are told, “Not yet.”

But I tell them things they can do: work hard and, in the words of one captain, “ROCK the level you’re at, get noticed for your skills and we’ll move you up.” If a skater hasn’t been noticed yet, it’s because he or she isn’t standing out–he or she is a “good fit” for that level. A “good fit” at Level 2 does not mean it’s time to play Level 3–it means a good fit at Level 2. Sometimes, a skater hasn’t played much, so I’ll tell that person to ask before a skate if the captain can watch and let me know if a move is in order. But captains can only do a level assessment on so many skaters while also meeting their other responsibilities for the session. The captains are very busy just working to keep up. Please think about it first, read the bold sentence above, and do not swamp them with requests.

Sometimes we need additional feedback from another captain. Sometimes I’ll ask a captain who has played against a skater in a recent league game. Sometimes I ask a captain to look at someone on the ice before her or his session. We work hard to get enough good info to make sure the changes we do are needed and useful. Most level changes are not the result of any one game, an quite a few are the result of consensus and not any one captain’s decision.

Because saying a skater is “good” can mean different things. There’s “Jane is looking good–see how much she has improved!” And also, “John is a good fit for this level” and also “She’s good enough to try the next level up” and finally, “Man, he’s way too good–he needs to play up from now on.”

We don’t move people up to LEARN next-level skills, we move them up because they are PROFICIENT in the next level’s skills. It’s an amalgam–guys have told me that, “Bob plays Level 3 and my shot is harder than Bob’s, so therefore I should play Level 3.” But… Is Bob faster? Does Bob still have enough energy at the end of a Level 2 game to skate end to end? Does Bob fall over when he tries a slapper? Does Bob know–and play–positions? If Bob has speed, does he also have control? All this and more goes into determining the best level placement.

When we do move skaters up a level, I almost always give them a few weeks of transition time. I urge them to use the faster level to work on speed and fitting in at the new pace. The lower level is to take advantage of the extra time with stickhandling and shooting — because the players up in the higher level are speedy and good, and it’s hard for the transition skater to get puck time up there.

As I wrote, moving up or down is almost always a consensus based on multiple factors. It’s not done as punishment or reward, it’s done to maintain parity. While I want people to be able to skate with their pals, JMS Hockey is about parity. It’s what I advertise and it’s what people expect. If the direct skater feedback isn’t enough, the leagues growth tells us that we’re making the right choices.

I have had people push back on level changes, but I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how it can be fun to skate up too high, always be out of the play, working hard to join the long-gone rush, or always the last one to tag up onsides. How is it fun to be seen as “the slow guy” and get pity passes to skate up the ice while everyone stands back to let you have your one moment with the puck. I suppose there’s some cachet in bragging that “I skate Level X” (or “having your Level X key fob,” as one person said), but bragging evaporates pretty quickly once the skates hit the ice and it’s actions, not words, that matters.

I also don’t understand how it can be fun to be obviously the best person on the ice, racking up goals at will. I have seen it all by now and know some guys actually are deluded enough to think it’s great to be the ex-high-school star slaughtering beginner skaters. How is that fun? I just don’t get it–and I run JMS Hockey as a parity league so beginners don’t have to deal with that nonsense.

Level changes aren’t bad, or good, they’re just part of the parity process at JMS. A new challenge or time to focus on refining skills. They are never done capriciously and usually come from a consensus decision based on multiple factors… and always with the bottom line JMS goal in mind: do the best thing for the most people.

Level 5 second session

by barbaragarn


I have added a second Level 5 to Thursday nights. It’s a little confusing, so read carefully:

On Monday, April 12, we will have a Level 5 session at Breck (don’t be confused by the weekly e-mail titled “Cheese vs Beans” — that was a TYPO and L5 is ON for Breck on April 12).
Starting Monday, April 19, the Monday Level 5 session will move to Richfield.
We will play the Level 5 Breck session on Thursdays, starting April 22.

I hope the additional options will work for you. I hated to move the Monday Breck sessions, but there was no way I could add another location–NO ICE at Bloomington, and the only Richfield times I could get were on Monday, when you were already playing.

So, while this means some changes to your world, please remember that:
1. you are still able to play at Breck (just on Thursdays now, which many of you were in favor of)
2. you are still able to play on Monday nights (just now at Richfield, which is also a great location)
3. you now have TWO options to play Level 5 during the week
4. folks on the south and east sides now have a Level 5 venue closer to them (though it’s still very accessible for everyone else)

Post here with questions and I’ll keep checking and answer as I can.