Why is participation in minor hockey slipping?

One of our regular contributors wanted to share her thoughts, or expand on them, following a tweet from @sensfoundation.

@sensfoundation tweet

Contributed by Valerie Bean (Pickering, ON)

I read a tweet this morning by @sensfoundation and was compelled to share my thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard to get your point across in 140 characters, even for writers, so I wanted to expand on them.

Most every point can be categorized to time, effort, and cost. Some span all three categories. These points are listed in no particular order.

  • Unnecessary Expenses. In addition to cost for sweaters, socks, track suits, winter coats, home and away jerseys, track suits, one year we had to buy a third jersey. One year we had to buy $500 leather jackets. The year earlier, we had the added expense of a team trip to Europe at the tune of $5,000 per person. The cost included two representatives — one from organization and one from provincial governing body — whose attendance was mandatory. Once there was a pre-season training camp held at an out-of-town location. Then there’s equipment.
  • Tournaments. The number of tournaments a team can enter ought to be restricted. Every year, we had at least two out-of-town tournaments and one-of-country tournament. Is there any real value to taking a team of ten-year-old AAA players to the U.S. to compete? The cost and time seems excessive, as does the effort to plan these trips.
  • Time Commitment #1. Weeknights and weekends for about eight months of the year—August to April—including games, practices, team fundraising events. Games or tourneys every wknd. Lots of driving for reg season games. Practice there times per week. Dryland training once a week during the season and in August.
  • Effort. Volunteers—the same ones every year—do all the heavy lifting. The same families are stretched too thin: on the bench, managing the team, while others do all the planning and executing of team events whether it’s a team social event, the year-end party, a team yearbook, or fundraising. (The pros and cons of fundraising when weighed against time and effort requires its own article.)
@beanhere tweets in response

@beanhere tweets in response

  • Scheduling: When the kids were younger, our practices started as early as 4:30 p.m. Team parents scrambled to get their kids to the practices. When they were older, and the players needed time for after-school activities, homework, and studying for tests, we had practices 30 minutes away that started at 9:30 p.m. One year, the coach added a mandatory practice during exam week, and punished players (by taking away ice time) who did not attend. Most AAA hockey players play school sports. Their AAA teams do not allow scheduling for this, so there’s often a conflict.
  • Travel time: Tack on 30–45 minute drive to games, or practices, after one hour commute home. Sometimes the games required travel during rush hour, other times the start times required parents to leave work early. Wintery road conditions (ice, snow, freezing rain) required extra time. At least once each season, team parents had an additional hour of white-knuckle driving.
  • Time Commitment #2. We don’t just drop our kids off at practice. When they were younger, we stayed for he length of the practice. Not because we wanted to watch—though some parents were critically assessing the coaching staff and the players—leaving your kid at the arena is like putting young child outside to play unsupervised. It just wasn’t something a responsible parent did.

In team sport, participation is not optional. With the exception of the hockey tour to three European countries, each family was required to chip in equally. Our team budget was divided by the number of team families—whether there were two working parents in the family, four parents, or one parent. We tried to encourage all parents to participate with their time, too. Although we were not as successful on that front.

Overall, I wouldn’t trade our family’s ten years of minor hockey (at the AAA level, we referred to this as a minor hockey lifestyle) for anything. And if asked, I would do it again, but in hindsight, I wonder about the wisdom and purpose (and arguments in favour) of organized play that requires time, effort, and money to the degree that organized hockey does today.

We support a sport that has become overly structured to the degree that spectators view the kids on the ice as mini-pro hockey players. And the spectator behaviour is a whole other ball of hockey stick wax.

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