By Michael Caples -
Our game can be expensive.
A quick look around my own hockey bag has me realizing that there’s well over $1,000 invested inside. Factor in the two sticks next to said bag, and well, we all know how that goes.
Tomorrow, I might make a mention of the upcoming ice bill for my adult-league team. I might talk to a friend and complain about how much cheaper their indoor soccer league fees are compared to mine.
We all do it – we all talk about the costs that go into playing hockey. Whether we’re a player, a coach, a parent or even just a fan, we talk about how expensive the top-of-the-line skates are or make an off-hand comment about how we can’t afford to break another stick right now.
Parents slap stickers on their car that talk about how they are broke because their kids play hockey. My dad’s favorite joke around the rink was that he could buy a Corvette if my brother and I didn’t play.
It’s great that we have the fortune of handling said costs. It’s great that parents bend over backwards to get their kids onto the ice.
But when we talk about it to non-hockey folks, what kind of damage are we doing to our own sport?
It can’t be hard for you to picture the scene at a youth baseball game – one parent says hockey season’s about to begin, and then makes a comment about how they’re going to need a second mortgage on the house. The other parent thinks they have made the right decision in keeping their child on a court or a field, instead of an ice surface.
Did you just turn a kid away from hockey without even knowing it?
Last week we covered a Try Hockey For Free event at Compuware Arena in Plymouth, hosted by the Plymouth Whalers and the Compuware AAA program. We recently ran an article showing how Andy Greene returns to his hometown of Trenton to raise money for the community every summer – exemplifying all the qualities we hope players learn as they grow within our game.
Do you talk about things like that? Do you tell them how our sport produces outstanding individuals and well-rounded people? Do you tell people they can try out our game, for free, at a bunch of different rinks all year long? Try Hockey For Free events take place across the state, offering a chance to suit up and skate at an investment of, well, only a few hours and probably a sports drink at the end.
Do you tell them that for every AAA hockey bill, there are house programs that don’t contain a comma in the price tag?
There are so many great things about our sport – the friendships, the learning experiences, the physical activity, the feeling that comes with being part of a team, the lifelong bond you can build.
Yet our participation numbers are not growing. And they haven’t just leveled off, either. Over the last decade, the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association’s total participation (players, coaches and referees) numbers have dropped by more than 7,000. Yet the drop in youth hockey participation numbers is even more concerning.
In 2002-03, Michigan had 55,297 people playing hockey, and 42,017 of those were youth hockey players (18 and younger). In 2012-13, Michigan had 51,929 people playing hockey, but only 28,959 of those were youth hockey players.
That means we have 13,058 less youth hockey players than we did a decade ago. Thirteen thousand. What happens to our game moving forward when we have seen that steep of a drop? I don’t want to find out.
Are you communicating the best parts of hockey to your friends, family and acquaintances? Are you encouraging them to try hockey, and not accidentally turning them away?
We all could do a little more to help grow this sport. It all starts with what you say about it.