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Grow the Game: No Cost, No Pressure, Just Hockey

By Minnesota Hockey, 08/05/13, 10:45AM CDT

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Every year people in hockey circles gather to discuss the hot topics surrounding the game. Some of these come and go but one of the most consistent topics is: How do we get more kids playing hockey?

Over the years, many ideas have surfaced.  The most common initiative lately has been low cost, low commitment programs, often referred to as try hockey for free events. Associations have found that parents and kids that are unfamiliar with hockey are more willing to try it if they can do so at little to no cost.

With preparations for this year’s national Try Hockey for Free (THFF) day on November 2nd already in full swing, we sat down with Shannon Webster of USA Hockey’s Membership Development department to learn more about this program. Webster has been involved with the THFF initiatives from the start and is the primary contact for events in the Minnesota District.

MH:  Historically, Minnesota and certain associations in particular have always had strong participation. Why is this initiative so important?

SW:  While Minnesota is still growing, the pace of that growth has slowed, so it is important that every association is doing their part to keep kids in hockey and reaching out to new families.

MH:  Why is THFF always on the first Saturday in November when many associations hold their registrations before then?

SW:  The November 2nd, Try Hockey for Free event is a part of the NHL’s ‘Come Play Hockey Month,’ which takes place in November. With the NHL season in full swing, ice hockey has a greater exposure on television and the media. The Nov. 2nd event is meant to attract kids between the ages of 4 and 9 to the rink that may not have otherwise thought of youth hockey as an option. Also, with several fall youth sports wrapping up, it provides an opportune time to introduce new families to a winter activity.

MH:  Some associations choose to hold similar events on different dates, often before their season registrations. What are the advantages of participating in this national program compared to running it independently?

SW:  There are several advantages to participating on Nov. 2nd including the USA Hockey jerseys and goodie bags. The online registration tool provided to each host site limits the paperwork.  Plus, there will be national marketing of the events from USA Hockey, the NHL, NHL Clubs and other partners.  USA Hockey provides step-by-step instructions for easy implementation of the program.

MH:  One of the biggest challenges for many associations holding these events is equipment. To maximize the impact, it is important to have equipment on hand for these kids to use.  What are a few tips on how to provide equipment for the event?

SW:  First off, keep in mind that in order for USA Hockey to sanction your THFF event, all participants must wear a hockey helmet, skates and gloves (can be winter/snow gloves).

  1. Start by checking with your local sporting goods store. If they have used equipment, they will often allow associations to borrow some of it for the event. In exchange, an association can offer to include a flyer for the hockey shop in participants’ goodie bags.
  2. Several associations hold an equipment drive within their association. This can be successful as some squirt players have out-grown equipment over the summer and can donate (or borrow for the event) their old equipment.
  3. Borrow equipment from your current squirt and mite age players for the event. Most families are willing to do this as long as they get it back before their next ice session. Remember to have tape on hand for families to write their names of the equipment!
  4. There are also several equipment grant programs available, such as Gear Up Minnesota!, that donate starter sets designed for players ages 4-9.  Although it is likely too late to help with this year’s event, filling out an application this season will give you a head start on providing equipment next year.

MH:  If you had three keys to a successful THFF, what would they be?

SW:  Grassroots Marketing - The success stories I hear most are those associations/rinks that find a unique place to market within their community. Some put flyers up in dance studios, swimming pools, martial arts classes and partner with other youth sports that end in the fall. The key to marketing is to know your area and think like the parent of a 4-9 year old. Think “what activities are my kids at.” Also, we typically don’t recommend posting flyers in the rink, as most kids that will see them are already exposed to hockey.

Volunteers - On and off the ice, volunteers play an important role in any THFF event. You want to have welcoming, energetic and knowledgeable volunteers as they can make all the difference in a new family’s first experience with youth hockey. Ideally, the coaches will make sure each kid has fun while on the ice so that they end the session with a sweaty head and a smile.

Follow-up - Once the families leave the THFF event, planning how to communicate with them to get them back into the rink is important. Some associations have transition program registration taking place right after the event, so they get families to sign up before leaving the rink. Others find success in calling each family the next week to see if they enjoyed the event and if they are interested in joining a program.

MH:  There have been some communications released about a USA Hockey Discount Program for this season.  What types of requirements are there for associations interested in providing their participants with this discount program?

SW:  This program is designed to help our November 2nd Try Hockey sites enjoy better player conversion.  The requirements for the membership discount program include the following:

  • The association/rink must host a THFF on Nov. 2nd and register the event with USA Hockey.
  • Players must be new to hockey, participate in the Nov. 2nd THFF and be 7-12 years old.
  • The host site must enter the on-site player registrations into their online registration tool.
  • Then, participants will receive an email code to enter on the USA Hockey website, which will allow them to register as a member at no cost
  • Discount Program redemption must be done by December 31, 2013 and the membership is a full USA Hockey membership good until August 31, 2014

For more information on Try Hockey for Free Day, please follow the links below:

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