Toronto

Ontario Minor Hockey Association launches campaign in hopes of boosting registration

A new campaign aims to get more youth signing up for hockey post COVID-19. The Ontario Minor Hockey Association highlights the mental health toll kids faced without their after-school activities and the benefits of the sport. Advocates say the campaign is also an opportunity to tackle barriers kids might face trying to get involved in hockey.

OMHA says registration numbers have been stagnant for the past 5 years

Richard Wong and his two sons Matthew, 12, and Marcus, 10, said before the pandemic they spent multiple nights on the ice every week. (Submitted by Richard Wong)

Marcus Wong says without hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was "bored out of his mind."

The 10-year-old and his brother Matthew, 12, have each been on the ice since they were about four years old and found their teammates and coaches became like family.

It's something their father, Richard Wong, felt too.

"Hockey has given so much to my family," he said.

Wong says he's always been a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't something his parents were interested in signing him up for. 

"My parents were immigrants and had different priorities, trying to put food on the table."

He says he's grateful he has been able to give his sons the opportunity to experience it — and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) hopes to see more families feeling this way.

The OMHA, which represents 225 minor hockey associations around the province, launched a campaign this week called 'Stronger,' in an effort to boost registration in the sport. The association says registration numbers for hockey have been stagnant for the past five years due to several factors, including costs, which the OMHA is trying to address.

The campaign also highlights the mental health impact losing organized sports has had on kids during the pandemic and the benefits of being part of the hockey community. People advocating to make the game more inclusive say this is a good opportunity to tackle barriers that can make it difficult for kids to play.

In a release, the OMHA said it realizes it can no longer take for granted that people are just going to show up for hockey, as they have done in the past, if it wants hockey to remain as one of Canada's most popular sports — especially after a pandemic.

"We never had to market the game before to kids in Ontario, but we recognize it is no longer a given kids are going to play hockey," said Ian Taylor, OMHA's executive director. 

Taylor said many of the minor hockey associations offer ways to help youth enter the game, including the option of playing once a week and providing equipment for families that need financial help.

WATCH | CBC's Talia Ricci reports on the new campaign by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association:

How a new campaign is trying to get more Ontario kids to sign up for hockey

1 year ago
Duration 2:17
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association says registration numbers for hockey have been stagnant for the past five years. The ‘Stronger’ campaign highlights the mental health impact losing organized sports has had on kids during the pandemic, and also addresses barriers to play — such as cost — to boost registration. Talia Ricci has the story.

"Another way we're trying to address cost is through trial programs," Taylor added.

That involves giving players the opportunity to try the sport out for six weeks before fully committing the time and money. He says outside of the sport itself, he wants parents to consider the mental health benefits of physical activity and feeling part of a team.

"Hockey is a game for everyone and that's something we want to communicate."

Building bridges in diverse communities

Moezine Hasham is the executive director and founder of Hockey 4 Youth, a charitable organization that provides new Canadian youth with an opportunity to play ice hockey at no cost. Hasham said he's interested to see the outcomes of the campaign.

"Anytime a sports organization is willing to do outreach and start a movement, I think that's important," he said. But as someone who's facilitated youth from 32 different countries to play the sport, he said, he also understands how challenging it can be.

"Beyond the financial barriers, there could be cultural barriers, gender barriers, transportation and accessibility barriers," he said. 

Moezine Hasham said some of the players his organization has met have never even heard of hockey before, so the programs starts with teaching them the history of the game. (Jack Huang)

Hockey 4 Youth gets players on the ice once a week for around five months and teaches them how to skate and play the game. It started in 2015 as a pilot program and has since expanded to multiple programs in various cities.

"What we're doing is using the sport to foster social inclusion," Hasham said, adding that involves going to high schools and talking to kids, among other measures, which he hopes to see reflected in minor hockey as well.

The OMHA said registration is happening now and the plan is for hockey to start back up when kids are back in school in September.

Matthew said he's looking forward to it.

"I think what I'm looking forward to most is seeing my friends again."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.

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