“Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.” – Steve Jobs

The Hockey Zones Winter 2012 edition published an article called “The Minor Hockey Dilemma”. This commentary revealed that the state of Canadian minor hockey as we know it today may look quite different in the next decade or so. Hockey Canada’s membership is around 575,000 registered players, down more than 200,000 from its peak. The myth is that most Canadian boys play hockey, however, the reality is that the numbers are falling. Only 15.7%, or 1 in 6.4 boys, actually play the game in Canada. If the trend of young males deciding not to play hockey continues, the numbers are expected to lower to about 360,000 in 2021. On the opposite side, there’s been a boom in female hockey, but the numbers do not make up for the decline in male participation. That trend could have a serious impact on Canada’s international male dominance of the sport in the future.
For many Canadians, hockey is more than a game; it is a big part of life. No other country is as passionate about hockey! Everyone has an opinion about the game. So it’s very difficult for administrators to make progressive changes to the hockey system in Canada because hockey is such a big deal and everyone wants to discuss and debate it.
As a continuation to our previous article, we offer our two cents worth to grow the game in Canada with a 10 point action plan for the betterment of the game.
Reduce Financial Barriers to Entry
Since the majority of lower class, lower middle class, and single income families typically can not afford to have their children play hockey, the governing bodies must find ways of lowering the costs of individual player registrations and hockey equipment.
In towns and cities across the country more subsidized or provided at a nominal fee “Learn to Skate” programs and “Introduction to Hockey” programs need to be offered to capture more family’s interest and participation.
More initiatives like the Comrie’s Sports Equipment Bank, recently launched in Calgary, need to be created across the country. The Equipment Bank is a not – for – profit organization. Russell Gillespie, the General Manager of the Calgary program states “We are trying to breakdown financial barriers between kids and their chosen sport”. “We encourage anyone…to get in contract with us to help as many kids as possible…help them play.” For additional information visit www.comriessportsequipmentbank.org
Address Visible Minorities and Changing Demographics
Canadian families are having fewer children. According to recent Health Canada information, the Canadian fertility rate is 1.5 children per woman aged 15 to 49 which is well below the replacement rate of 2.1. This is considered among the lowest birth rates in the world.
We are living in an ever changing society where other sports, digital gadgets, youthful pressures from schools and part – time jobs take precedence over the game of hockey. With respect to other sports more and more children have been gravitating to sports such as soccer where the participation costs for registration, travel and equipment are significantly lower than those for hockey.
Declining interest from a changing population. Low birth rates in Canada are being offset by a steady flow of immigration from non-hockey playing countries. Statistics Canada data from 2006 states that among recent arrivals of immigrants, only 32% of their children participate in organized sports compared to 55% of those of Canadian born parents. Canada will have up to 14.4 million persons belonging to a visible minority group by 2031, more than double the 5.3 million reported in 2006. The rest of the population, in contrast, is expected to increase by less than 12 %. Today, in Toronto over 40% of the population consists of immigrants; in Calgary that number is nearly 30 %.
Conversely, second generation Canadians are far more willing to put their kids in hockey because even though they may not have played the game they have been surrounded by it most of their lives. Parents who have participated in hockey take a more hands on approach with their kids because they can relate to it and both child and parent share in the enjoyment of the game. Attracting immigrants to the game is a core component to keeping the registration numbers up. Minor hockey ads showing ethnic kids and their role models to promote the game and having fun is a key requirement.
Our governing hockey bodies need to produce educational and promotional materials in different languages and put on more hockey seminars to educate people, especially parents, about the game. Hockey Canada has looked at technology to translate its promotional literature into 17 different languages. It’s a critical task.
Minor hockey is dying in many small Canadian communities. As more and more families leave small towns to pursue job opportunities in urban centres, the population continues to decline and the numbers of kids playing hockey is getting lower and lower. This requires amalgamation of rural associations to ice a complete team or teams which results in extended travel and extra associated costs. These costs need to be subsidized.
Subsidizing Hockey from All Levels of Governments
All levels of government must support subsidizing hockey and sports in general. Governments see the value of keeping kids active. There’s a linkage between activity and health care. All levels of government need to step up and work together (team work) to lower costs and make playing hockey more affordable to enable kids to be more active. Lower ice costs to the individual minor hockey associations can be directly passed on to individual participants via reduced registration fees each year.
This is the philosophy of the Swedish government where it only cost $1,000 to play hockey from August 1st to June 30th. All kids, rich or poor, are given an opportunity to excel at the highest level.


 Continued Next Week…