A website that has shaped youth hockey in the United States and Canada in part by ranking thousands of teams across both countries on a weekly basis has announced that it will stop the practice at the youngest levels of competition.
Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Rankings, said on its website on Wednesday that the platform would no longer assign a numerical rank to teams of children under 12, explaining that rankings contributed to an unhealthy approach to the game by adults.
“Youth sports have become a rat race to the top amongst parents, coaches and clubs,” Lodin wrote. “There is this ‘If you aren’t keeping up with the Joneses, do you even love your kid?’ mentality out there.
“The youth hockey community isn’t immune from these issues,” his message stated. “And let’s be honest, rankings are a contributing factor when they’re used in a negative and exclusionary manner instead of as a coaching tool and scheduling resource.”
In December 2021, MYHockey Rankings and its influence were the subject of an article in The New York Times. Ken Martel, the director of player development for U.S.A. Hockey, the sport’s governing body, said in the article that he feared the weight given to rankings by some parents, coaches and youth hockey associations had a harmful effect on player development and the cost of playing the game.
The website’s ability to cull and crunch an array of statistical data on thousands of teams spanning age groups 9 to 18 has made it an indispensable resource for many in the youth hockey community.
At its core is a sophisticated algorithm that predicts a team’s “performance rating” and the goal differential of any game it might play against any opponent in the database. Coaches and tournament directors routinely use the website to identify teams that are projected to be evenly matched, and schedule games accordingly.
But critics have contended that the website’s ancillary practice of assigning a numerical rank to teams has fueled a primal instinct among too many youth hockey stakeholders to climb the rankings ladder in a never-ending game of one-upmanship.
In an interview, Lodin said the website would continue to provide the core data that helped inform scheduling decisions — like win-loss records, game results and other statistics — while eliminating the rankings for its youngest teams. The site ranked roughly 3,000 teams of children under 12 years old during the most recent hockey season.
“We’re taking action that we think makes users more likely to use the site as intended, as a tool to help teams schedule appropriate levels of competition, as opposed to the detriment of hockey,” Lodin said.
Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, whom Lodin credited with posing the idea of getting rid of rankings while retaining the data that helps teams find well-matched competition, called the move “a step in the right direction.”
“It sends the message that development is more important than comparing kids and teams who are still in the early stages of growth,” Farrey said.
Martel, of U.S.A. Hockey, applauded the development.
“This will hopefully relieve some of the pressure a bit,” he said. “We’re a late-developing sport. The best young kids aren’t the best kids later on. Nobody knows who’s really good until after puberty.”