Seasons come, and seasons go, but this season could be the beginning of a pivotal point in girl’s and women’s hockey here in Minnesota. A point that could go in one of two directions. One direction is good, the other not.
The good side is that the level of play continues to improve, albeit at a slower pace, (perhaps because the level has gotten very good, very quickly.) Good coaching, good training methods, and good competition have all aided that cause. It will continue to grow, as the level of competition continues to offer those opportunities.
Now for the down side! I don’t have many hard facts to back up my perspective, but their are enough signs to make one worry. We are not gaining near enough numbers of new players to see our program continue to grow and flourish. Hockey associations are reporting fewer girls joining their ranks between five and 10 years of age. This means fewer U-8 and U-10 teams. As they get older, and some find other interests, it means still fewer U-12 and U-14 teams. Now factor in the high school program that is trying to build a strong JV and to do so they have to bring younger players into their programs when they should still be at the youth level.
What does this all mean, and what can be done? We are stuck having to do it this way right now, but we must try much harder to correct this trend in the near future. In my years at North St. Paul, we tried some things that had potential, but I don’t know if that effort continues today. It did have some success, and here is what we did. We had some high level players at the time, and we got the elementary schools to allow us to bring those kids to elementary P.E. classes and assembly programs, and demonstrate hockey skills and techniques to the younger classes, both boys and girls. We followed up with a question and answer period, followed by fliers at the schools telling about our youth program, and inviting them to join. We sponsored a couple of youth nights at games, with free admission. We had some “skate with the high school girls” sessions for those already in youth hockey. We did have some success with those efforts, but needed to do more. We even added a couple of youth players per home game to be on the ice and be introduced before the anthem, but not directly involved in the warm-ups. Somehow we need to make a list of things that work to build program numbers, so that we all may benefit. If we don’t, the programs will continue a slow decline.
I saw a neat idea in Forest Lake, and I am sure, other areas as well. They have an “Intro to Hockey” program that provides equipment for players “new” to the game, so they can try it without the big expense, before they know if they like it or not! The cost is small, the ice schedule is consistent, so families can plan, and most of the on-ice activities are geared to have fun and teach fundamentals. As kids improve, they move into more structured teams, and organized activities. I know a few areas that provide the beginners with equipment and ice time for free, just to see if they would like it. Hockey is expensive, and there is a great need to lessen that expense to get kids to try it. When they find out that they like the game, programs won’t have much trouble getting the kids to stay with it. If any of you out there have some good ideas that work, share them with us so that more girls will join, and learn this great game. We need to GROW the game!
Our game at the high school level is in its 18th season, and we have the program in place to start out Girl’s Coaches Association Hall of Fame. We are looking for candidates who meet our criteria (look on our web site under Awards), and helped foster and nurture girls high school hockey over the years. We will create a list from which to choose Hall of Fame inductees each year. Names that don’t make it will stay on the list for future consideration. Let our association know of those people in your area that deserve consideration, and then find someone who can fill out the nomination form, and fill in the required data to be submitted for consideration. We hope to have our first induction ceremony as soon as next year, for this very prestigious honor.