There is a growing concern that the number of kids playing hockey in Canada is dwindling with a number of factors attributing to this decline. The cost of the game is certainly a major issue and it doesn’t appear anytime soon that ice will get any cheaper or equipment for that matter. The choices kids have during down time are plentiful with the emergence of professional baseball, soccer, lacrosse and basketball, options almost non-existence for kids growing up in the 60’s or 70’s. The Internet, smart phones, video games, movies all have changed the way even adults run their lives never mind just the kids with easy availability. The access to streaming has taken the need for information to stratospheric heights. A kid can be seated in a wagon pulled along by a donkey in Mexico and at the same time watch his favourite team play live on his phone. And if he or she is too lazy to watch the game, notifications can give up to the minute updates as scoring takes place.
In the year 1988, the number of Canadians playing in the NHL was 75.4% and today that number sits at 50.3%. The emergence of the American and European player certainly has a lot to do with it but are they really gaining that much on us or are we just falling behind. The 2014 Sochi Olympics with Gold medals in both the men and women’s hockey would suggest not. However what does the future hold for Canadian hockey?
If we look back to the era of the 60’s and as a product of that time, I can attest that we had very little in the form of entertainment but for a few channels on TV and playing outside. The game played outside was the catalyst that instilled the passion for the game of hockey in all of us of that era. If a kid of that period wasn’t playing road hockey, he was on the local outdoor rink, schoolyard, park or even his own backyard, skating. How often today can you drive through your own neighbourhood and never mind not seeing a road hockey game, but kids even outside playing?
I also believe that the weather plays a factor in the lack of growth in the game today. There is something to be said for the kid who spends his time dreaming of his favorite player with the winter cold brushing against his face. I think our youth of today as Canadians have been cheated out of this experience and as a result a game that should be played for the joy and exhilaration it brings, instead becomes business like the minute a kid shows the slightest bit of promise as early 8 or 9-years old.
Instead of racing home to put on his skates and play at the local outdoor rink until dinner, the young player is off to a practice, game, off ice training or specialty coach. Mom and dad are spending a lot of money for this child to compete at this level so the budding young star better be ready to go all out or he may find himself dropping down a level next year. And how embarrassing’s that for dad to inform the guys at work his 9-year old is dropping down a level.
When the inquisitive co-worker asks,
“But it’s only the first week of December, didn’t your season just start a while ago?”
“Yeah but the coach won’t commit to us for next year and most of the other spots on other teams are already taken.”
With the peer and parental pressure pushing kids to attain a higher level, how can they just sit back and enjoy the game? The challenge moving forward is to put the fun back into hockey at the grassroots level. The desire to play the game has to come from within and passion is a powerful force for success in the world we live in today.
The funny part about all of this is the kids are so programmed today with all the instruction that the critics suggest NHL regular season games are almost becoming unwatchable because the players are so mechanical and regimented.
The star players will always shine and play the game at an elite level but the foundation and structure of the game is built on depth.
The fact remains that if you are good enough, the powers to be will find you.
We however, as a proud nation, must find a way to bring the passion back to that young player who maybe a slow developer, may just need some extra work and maybe just relaxing, playing on the street or even shinny at a local rink may just keep the fire burning long enough so we don’t have this kid quit at such an early age.
The star player will always be driven to succeed and if he slips a notch below the other elite 13-14-year-olds, he needn’t worry because his agent or one of his advisors will certainly let him know.