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ICE CHIPS – Help, we need more girls playing...we are losing ground !

11/15/2012, 7:30am CST
By Bill Halbrehder, MGHCA

More proactive steps are needed to grow the ranks of girls hockey

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.

Overtime Notes

Ray Dahloff, our new President, will try and find some time in a busy schedule, to continue with the ICE CHIPS context, which consists of notes and news from the MGHCA President. My role as Past President may include ICE CHIPS as well, but will focus on some other details of our association, including our newly developed Hall of Fame endeavor.
This has been a tough year in our ranks, with the loss of two gentlemen that will be impossible to replace!   The death last spring of Blake Coach Brano Stankovsky, and most recently Ron Sellnow are stunners to our hockey community.   Not only were they extremely good for the game of hockey, but they were tireless workers behind the scenes in our coaches association and in MSHSL tournaments, rules, and policy directions for the good of the game and the high school program.   You guys will be sincerely missed, but we know that somewhere you’ll be watching with a smile, at how far we’ve come, and your part in it!
It seems like every year we run into controversy about recruiting.   When I say ‘every year’ I certainly go back a long ways, and there could be volumes written on both sides of the issue concerning that.    As I leave the coaching ranks, it is no secret what my stance is, but for one of the last times I’ll say it again … it goes on, and it’s not good!
We work hard in our programs for the most part, and don’t like to see kids leave, or lose kids to other programs, whether it be other high schools in the MSHSL, or to outside teams such as the Thoroughbreds, the former Crunch Program, and/or Shattuck.   I have come to the realization that this may always be a problem, and on the boy’s side you have the issue of leaving for junior hockey, which is perhaps another issue.    My take is this!    This is a free country and our athletes can choose what they want to do with their skills and abilities.   In a situation where an athlete makes that decision solely on their own (including family input), while it is disappointing, I can live with their decision.    If however, (which is often the case) there is a strong outside influence to pull players away from their home programs, this is just plain wrong!    As I said, many coaches work hard in the support and the construction of their local program, so that they may have quality teams as a result (sometimes years down the road).    As a former college coach I can tell you ... we can find talented players wherever they are, so staying at home will not limit your chances on that front!    Some people say, come to a successful program and increase your chances.   I will tell you this, it is easy to be a successful program if all you do is influence talented players to abandon their own programs and join the “all talented” ones!    We as coaches should also be concerned about developing all our kids, and the good ones in our own programs are a major help with this … they make all their teammates better.   It is easy to say “look at that program---they had some good players and didn’t do much.   They came with us and look how we developed them.   In truth, they started developing way before you got them.     A player leaving a program should be solely the player’s choice and no adult (except possibly the parents) should be involved.   There are times when the parents should back off too.    For sure, no other adult should be involved in luring them away, or actively recruiting them!  
Unfortunately we all know that is not what is happening!    I repeat … we work hard to make our programs better, losing quality kids because of outside influence is sapping the energy out of the coaches  trying to develop their program.
See ya around the rink...


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