By: Joey Walsh HockeyStickMan.ca
I love hockey.
It has the power to bring people and communities together, while teaching us important lessons about teamwork, commitment, and sacrifice.
Friendly competition makes us strive to be better and healthier versions of ourselves, further contributing to the joy, sense of fulfillment, and life lessons that transcend the sport itself. The game has shown that it can have a positive effect on mental health and can keep kids out of trouble. I know all of this to be true because my family and I have lived it. Hockey is a gift that I would like to see given to more of our nation’s youth. It is a national pastime for all young Canadians, not just a sport reserved for affluent families. I believe that every kid who wants to grab a stick and play should be given that chance.
Thankfully, I am not alone in that thinking. Below are a few examples of the concepts and the change being driven by some community and hockey leaders throughout our country today:
• The long-term athlete development model suggests that hockey needs to be taught in schools. We often see that schools offer hockey instruction in its simplest forms like floor hockey in the gym and school trips to learn to skate, but we need to push for more! Some schools now offer hockey classes and have school hockey teams that practice and play during the day. Kids must be using available ice rather than having it sit empty for most weekdays.
• Municipal Government Recreation Departments are providing and encouraging more participation in hockey programs. They are looking beyond potential liabilities and operate outdoor rinks, various levels of drop in Shinny, and organized rec leagues. Municipal staff provide the infrastructure and empower volunteers in the community to help run the programs. Arenas are expensive to operate, and taxpayers want to get the most out of them! Note: if your community doesn’t have an outdoor rink, fight for one (preferably with artificial ice!).
• Minor Hockey programs are working to become more inclusive. They are trying to keep registration fees manageable and are working on eliminating unnecessary costs. The focus is primarily on the expenses related to the game and getting as many kids onto the ice as possible, running enjoyable programs for both boys and girls within the organization, growing a strong participant base, and then offering rep fee grants available to lower income families. They are sourcing the funding from wherever they can to help fund more competitive play for deserving participants. When reviewing the state of Canadian hockey at the end of 2021, Richard Monette of Activeforlife.com wrote, “Someone once told me there might never be another Gordie Howe, the statement wasn’t about Howe’s extraordinary hockey skills, but that he was born to a lower-income working-class family.” A powerful thought that could lead to the conclusion that organizations who do better to serve the needs of all families in their community could in fact end up with more competitive and well-rounded teams.
• For many years large corporations like Tim Hortons, Scotiabank, and Esso have aligned their brands with grassroots hockey. They understand the powerful message that goes with supporting youth hockey programs. There is a lot more opportunity for corporate dollars at the community level today, as many brands want to be associated with the positive message of inclusiveness and building a welcoming environment for all. The programs that are achieving this, are being rewarded with corporate cash that can make a real difference!
The hockey community is the best community of all. Sure we have a few characters and our share of problems, but who doesn’t? If we choose to adopt a common vision that hockey should be for every kid that wants to play, then I believe we can do it. Like every grass roots initiative, it needs to rise from the ground up, a million small contributions that equal real change and ultimately the goal we set to achieve.
This issue of Total Sports brings attention to the fact that “every child matters.” Many remote communities in Canada do not have the proper equipment to play hockey. The company that I founded, HockeyStickMan has helped a little over the years but it is time for us to do more. We are partnering with a popular Canadian based lifestyle brand to sell HSM apparel. A portion of the proceeds of our new apparel line will go towards donating sticks to Indigenous hockey programs. Doing so, we are hoping to promote the concept that every kid should have a chance to play Canada’s sport.
Please visit hockeystickman.com/pages/hsm-2022-23-feedback to help shape our vision for 2022-23 which includes a request for specific organizations that we can donate to.