The Gazette (Montreal)
Alarmed by sliding enrolment in minor hockey programs across the country, Hockey Canada is launching a charm offensive in a dozen languages, targeting the households of recent immigrants and First Nations families to boost the number of Canadian kids strapping on skates.
Minor hockey registration continues to be on a downward spiral and there are concerns that in the next 10 years, there could be 200,000 fewer kids playing the sport in this country.
“Through the trending we’ve gone through here, we feel that by 2020-21 if we continue to do what we are doing, we’re going to have 360,000 members as opposed to 560,000 members,” said Hockey Canada’s vice-president of member services Glen McCurdie from his Ottawa office. “That’s a fairly significant decrease in numbers over the next 10 years. From our perspective, it’s time to change the way that we are doing stuff.”
For the first time, Hockey Canada’s annual planner, which is mailed to registered minor hockey players under the age of 10, is available in 12 languages.
In addition to the traditional English and French versions, the planners–which are also available for download at hockeycanada.ca–come in Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Cree, German, Inuktitut, Italian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Spanish and Tagalog.
Hockey Canada used Canadian census figures to determine their focus.
The mail-outs, which were sent last month to more than 235,000 players from coast to coast, feature a personalized Hockey Canada season planner with hockey-related activities and comic strips.
“This is pretty exciting for us to have done translation in that many different languages,” said McCurdie. “Hopefully the benefits (have) some spinoff when we have new Canadians at least thinking about hockey. That’s a start for potentially down the road.”
This is the fourth year the mail-outs, which also includes pins and stickers, have been sent to young Canadian hockey players.
“When we got into it, we realized that there was a little bit of power here that we could use from the mail out that extended beyond our own members,” said McCurdie. “We had anecdotal situations that came back to us, where kids were taking their mail outs to school and showing other kids and creating a bit of a buzz that way.
“From our perspective, it’s now serving three purposes. One is an affinity with the national body, but it also has a recruitment angle to it where other kids that are seeing it are excited about the possibility of playing. And I think our members in that age group certainly feel like they are part of something bigger and it’s something they might want to stay involved in more readily with stuff like this going on.”
Canadian minor hockey registration peaked in 2008-09 when 584,679 players were taking part. Last year, the number dropped to 577,077. This year, it’s expected to drop by a further one per cent when the final numbers are determined near the end of the month.
The number of outside influences distracting kids from hockey these days is huge: the Internet, video games, social media, and even other sports.
“We recognized fairly quickly that there is a decreasing pool of kids in the five to 19 age group and that trend was continuing on at a fairly rapid pace here,” said McCurdie. “Really, the only increase in population across the country . . . is through immigration.
“We were sort of an organization that is used to, very honestly, opening up our doors and having people flock to us. We’ve never really been in a boat where we needed to recruit players. I think that’s a mindset that we need to get our (provincial) organizations more on board with.”
In the eyes of Hockey Canada, getting people on skates is the first step, and that could mean working together with Skate Canada (figure skating), ringette and speedskating to get the message out.
“We feel if we are able to even get kids on skates, we’ve done our job,” said McCurdie. “Hockey is such a part of our country, it’s such a vibrant sport, that if we can get people onto skates, that the natural flow will be for them to try hockey at some point.”