During the past three hockey seasons, Hockey Canada and Bauer have invested resources and effort to identify and address the current trends in membership decline, and gain a clear understanding of the challenges that face Canada’s national winter sport in the future.
Contrary to popular belief, recent research demonstrates that only one out of ten Canadian youth is registered in minor hockey. Hockey Canada and Bauer have joined forces to invest in the future of the game by making hockey accessible to new families and providing children with the opportunity to play their “first shift.”
Recent studies have shown there are four major barriers preventing families from enrolling their children in hockey. This, in turn, has a direct impact on minor hockey membership from coast to coast to coast. These key barriers are: the cost to participate, the time commitment required, player safety and the perceived lack of fun in the game.
In response to these barriers, Bauer and Hockey Canada created The First Shift.
After a very successful pilot project in 2013, the program was officially launched Oct. 7, 2014 at a press conference with Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, Bauer president and CEO Kevin Davis, project leader Mary-Kay Messier, and Hockey Canada vice-president of membership development Paul Carson.
The key objective of The First Shift is to help kids fall in love with hockey by breaking down the barriers that are preventing families from enrolling their children. This fall, 26 communities across the country hosted the program, resulting in more than 1,000 young Canadians signing up for the learn-to-play program. Ten associations in Ontario hosted the program; Brampton, Carleton Place, Greater London, the GTHL, Kent, Mississauga, Orleans, Port Perry, St. Catharines CYO and Tavistock.
Hundreds of volunteers collaborated with staff members from Bauer, Hockey Canada and SDI Marketing to make these events memorable experiences for all registered players and their entire families. After all, they are now part of the Hockey Canada family!
“In looking at ways and means to get their children active in the best winter sport, The First Shift program is a parent’s answer,” said Renney. “Your only investment is time, and a great attitude … the outcome is seeing the pure joy on your child’s face.”
“HOCKEY IS TOO EXPENSIVE”
The First Shift program registration fee is $199. The program provides a low financial risk for families who wish to introduce their children to hockey. This fee includes a complete set of Bauer equipment provided at a Welcome Event, as well as six on-ice sessions focused on learning to play hockey.
“HOCKEY TAKES UP TOO MUCH TIME”
In each community, the six-week program is scheduled on the same day of the week, at the same time, at the same arena and with the same instructional staff. Parents are able to manage their family calendars with ease and their children can be involved in other activities on other days. Once the six-week on-ice sessions are done, players are encouraged to participate in another six-week session, in this case after the holiday break.
“HOCKEY IS NOT SAFE”
As part of the program, each child receives a full set of Bauer equipment at the Welcome Event. To ensure maximum protection when children are on the ice, each piece of equipment is fitted by the experts of Bauer and Hockey Canada. It’s like a professional locker room experience!
“HOCKEY LACKS FUN’’
Hockey has often been perceived as too serious and that there is too much pressure on young players to perform. The program makes learning hockey fun by applying a series of on-ice experiences taken from the Hockey Canada Initiation Program. The objectives of the on-ice experience for each participant are:
• to have fun while playing hockey and engaging in physical activity;
• to learn the fundamental skills required to play the game of hockey;
• to create and refine basic motor patterns;
• to be introduced to the concepts of cooperation and fair play;
• to develop a solid foundation for minor hockey based on the three development pillars of education – PLAYERS, PARENTS AND COACHES.
So many wonderful stories have emerged from the 26 communities hosting The First Shift program this fall, from new Canadian families excited about the opportunity to see their kids on the ice for the first time, to families who can afford the registration fees for all their children.
Program administrators and volunteers have been overwhelmed by the smile on the faces of both the kids and their parents attending the Welcome Event to gather up their hockey bag full of Bauer gear. These youngsters are future members of minor hockey associations across Canada. They represent the future of our game.
“The First Shift program has delivered and will continue to deliver on its objective of helping kids experience hockey,” Renney said. “This program is ground-breaking, and I truly hope another 1,000 kids enroll for the winter sessions. “
Moving forward, The First Shift will play a key role in enabling the introduction of hockey to Canadian kids and increase their level of physical activity. For the sport as a whole, as well as all Ontario minor hockey associations, one goal is to have a direct impact on membership.
Hockey Canada is committed to supporting numerous recruitment initiatives that will see new players embrace the game, as well as providing development initiatives such as skills camps, summer camps and skills combines to any minor hockey associations interested in hosting events. These recruitment and retention initiatives will keep the sport healthy for years to come.
Minor hockey associations across Canada are encouraged to contact the executive director of their Hockey Canada branch, or Hockey Canada directly if they wish to host the program in the fall of 2015 with the goal of “helping kids fall in love with this great game!”
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