Last season, the Forest Lake Hockey Association had 35 first-time hockey players, about half of the previous year. The board decided to create an advertising and recruiting effort, which resulted in that number exploding to 120 kids involved in the intro-to-hockey program, in addition to another 30 or so kids registered for Mites, totaling more than 150 first-time hockey players.
This success story of growth at the entry and Mite levels is similar to what many associations are experiencing across the state. With a little creativeness and utilizing the marketing and advertising campaigns available from USA Hockey, getting young skaters into the rink is anything but a monumental task. And as any successful association will attest to, building a large “base of the pyramid” will only make the association stronger in the long run.
Each of the past five years there has been a steady increase of Mite-level players in Minnesota, and the nearly 17,000 players last year accounted for roughly 30 percent of all youth players in the state. The next consideration after recruitment is retention, and how to keep kids involved in the sport. Minnesota head coach Don Lucia commented about U8 hockey after a recent season. While each association runs their programs slightly differently, there are some common denominators pointed out by Lucia:
- Players under 8 years old should not be playing 5-on-5 hockey, they should not be taught positional play and should be playing small-ice games, 4-on-4 or 3-on-3.
- The best kids dominate full-ice Mite games. Most kids give up because they’re 50 feet from the puck and have no chance to get it. In cross-ice games, kids are always going to be around the puck and will always have a chance to be involved in
- We should have more kids on the ice at all levels. How can a youth coach possibly run a good practice with 13 or 14 players? I can’t do it. By having more kids on the ice, we give players more opportunities to be on the ice and reduce the cost.
- Associations need to set aside rink rat hockey time and just let the kids play.