The Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs Tier 1 U13 hockey team had an idea.
They brought to the table a program they were calling Little Mustangs, with the main goal being to grow the feeling of community within the Greater Vernon Minor Hockey Association by joining the five U9 teams for practice once a week for four straight weeks.
Big Mustangs head coach Jason Podollan volunteered to run skating skills sessions for the teams while his players interacted, encouraged and ‘taught’ the players individually. After the group skills sessions, the U9 coaches ran their own practices with the Mustangs players and coaches supporting them.
The idea resulted in the Mustangs being named the winner of the Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association’s Jack Koteles Memorial Award for strong commitment to community service.
“The hope was to provide an opportunity for our older players to develop their leadership skills, recognize their influence, and encourage their character development,” said Mustangs manager Michelle Godard. “The hope for the younger players was to grow their hockey skills, their passion for the game, and to inspire them to work hard so they too could wear the Mustangs jersey one day.”
Said James Morris, coach of the U9 Junior Vipers: “We were very thankful for the on-ice mentorship program that coach Jason put into action…There was even a goalie mentor for our young goalies as it’s not the most popular position as the players’ shots get better. For me, giving back to the younger generation is what community is all about.”
The success of the program was instantly felt.
Smiles and giggles from the U9s were everywhere, the coaches were grateful for the support, and the U13 players took on the mentorship role enthusiastically.
Words the Mustangs heard from the U9 coaches and parents were “respectful, knowledgeable, mentors, leaders”.
“The hope to grow the excitement and passion for the game under the umbrella of “community” was accomplished and we couldn’t have been prouder of our boys,” said Godard.
The impact extended outside of the sessions too.
Many of the U9 players attended Mustangs games during the season, parents were told of heartwarming interactions at school and many familiar young faces were noticed during the Winter Carnival parade route as the Mustangs always have a float entered in this Vernon tradition.