Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MANITOBA WINTER GAMES: Youth movement the new focal point

More opportunity to develop skills

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ATHLETES aged 10-21 will be the main focus at the Power Smart Manitoba Winter Games in Portage la Prairie, March 7-13, 2010.

This move away from a broader age spectrum is in accordance with recommendations of a Games task force that reviewed the purpose, and fit, of the Games program in the provincial sport delivery system.

"There will continue to be widespread provincial participation at a regional level where athletes will attempt to qualify to compete at the provincial final," said Bernie Chrisp, chair of the Manitoba Games Council.

"The focus now, however, is strictly on those athletes between the ages of 10 and 21, and providing them with enhanced opportunities for skill development that will enable them to attain a higher level like the Canada Games."

As such, the Games are a catalyst for provincial sport organization initiatives related to their Canadian Sport for Life Long Term Athlete Development.

Sports included in the Games are: artistic gymnastics, badminton, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, fivepin bowling, male and female hockey, ringette, Special Olympics bowling and male and female volleyball.

A major change will come in the way athletes are selected for the Games. Previously, individual athletes or community-based teams could enter a stand-alone qualifying event or an event that was part of regional games.

Now, in most cases, the selection process will begin 12 to 18 months prior to the Games, and will involve coach identification, selection and mentorship, athlete identification camps, skill development camps, clinics, selection camps, or a qualifying event, leading to the selection of a regional all-star team for both team and individual sports.

"This has evolved over the last two sets of Games and is working well," said Chrisp. "Soccer used a regional all-star team selection process for the most recent Games. They found they had a greater talent pool to select from, and identified athletes for their provincial team program who may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

"For the upcoming Games, hockey will be selecting the best 14-year-old male players from each region in the province, and this will be the group that will eventually be looked at for selection to Team Manitoba for the 2011 Canada Winter Games."

Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods calls the new selection process, "a positive move, and it is fully supported by our board. We'll be getting the best players in that age group."

In addition to identifying players for the Canada Winter Games team, Woods said it will also help with identifying top under 16- and 17-year-old players.

The other major change will be the selection of two teams from Winnipeg to replace a Host Team, which has been eliminated.

"In previous Games, the Host team would consist of athletes or teams from the host region that did not win at their regional qualifier. Because of a limited talent pool, the host team was considerably weaker at the provincials while Winnipeg has historically been stronger than most regions because of only one team," said Chrisp.

"With Winnipeg being the largest region, it has the population and talent base to support two competitive teams which will provide more opportunities for some athletes who otherwise might be excluded and we should have an even more level playing field at the provincials."

Woods said that the Host team has always been a popular feature for the host site, and there may be some objection to the new rule but, "Winnipeg can field two competitive teams."

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2009 C6

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