Every spring and summer marks an exciting time in youth hockey. The mindset of youth hockey associations changes from a focus on the past season to the next year. With that new focus, there should be a renewed emphasis on how to introduce more new families to the great game of hockey.
One of the common initiatives used by associations in Minnesota over the past couple of years to recruit new hockey players is bring-a-friend programs. Some associations have even tied incentives to the events, giving families a discount for registration, or a gift card to a local hockey shop, if their child brings a friend that does not currently play hockey to a bring-a-friend event.
These events are fantastic for many reasons. Primarily, they work. And, just as important to those running them, is why the events are so effective. The success often comes from utilizing current players to spread the word on how fun hockey is to their friends. After all, is there anyone children are more willing to believe about how fun an activity is than their friends?
As many parents will attest, probably not.
Recently, one association took this concept of relying on word of mouth advertising between kids to an entirely new level.
New Prague Area Hockey Association (NPAHA) has been running an event each fall called “The Great Skate” in an effort to encourage more girls to play hockey. This year the event organizers, Joe Moravchik and Jason Bentson, decided to implement a new idea. They decided to involve their current youth and high school players more so than they ever had before.
“We sat down with each group of girls in the program,” said Moravchik, who with Bentson is a Co-Director for Girls’ Hockey Development in New Prague. “The 8U, 10U, 12U and Varstiy/JV teams were all given input into the event. They got to make a lot of the decisions for the event ranging from the design and color of our t-shirts to the music and on-ice games that we had.”
When the girls decided on what they wanted, some of the decisions were a bit different than what Moravchik, Bentson, or other association leaders likely would have selected.
For example, the girls chose to go with a bright, almost neon blue color for the t-shirts over one of New Prague’s team colors of cardinal red, black, or white. The girls reasoned that it was a stand-alone event that could have a different color theme each year, and this past fall light blue was a popular color.
Credit Moravchik and Bentson for initiating the plan to involve the girls in decision making. After promoting the event through various open houses, parades, flyers at local schools, local media, and of course the association’s current players, the event had by far the best turn out ever with over 90 girls participating.
“Knowing most of the previous events had about 40-50 girls, we had only printed 70 t-shirts,” said Moravchik. “It was definitely a little bit of a surprise to have so many girls come out, but it was a good problem to have. It just goes to show that the kids really know best when it comes to what their friends find fun.”
The involvement of the girls did not stop with sharing their ideas either. Each level of girls’ teams had their own duties at the event. The 8U and 10U Girls were tasked with bringing their non-skating friends to the event. The 12U Girls helped the new skaters find proper fitting skates and equipment, get laced up and dressed, and out on the ice. Meanwhile, the Girls’ Varsity and JV players managed the registration tables and concessions, gave tours of their brand new locker room, and joined the new young skaters on the ice to provide encouragement.
“It really was a great program building event for us,” said Moravchik. “Not just because of the numbers we had at The Great Skate, or the newly registered players that we signed for the season, but the fact that the girls took ownership of the event really fits in with our overall committee plan of unifying all of the girls in our program from the time they first put on skates as Mites to the years that they play with the Varsity team.”
Combined with other programs including a Community Education Learn to Skate and a Summer Hockey Camp, the Great Skate is helping NPAHA develop its Girls’ Hockey Program through a comprehensive plan that focuses on growth at the youngest levels, fun, and program pride. The results are starting to show already. With the passion the players and volunteers are demonstrating, Girls’ Hockey in New Prague looks to have a bright future.