Growing the Game: Report on adult hockey and figure skating programs in Canada

Kristen Richards – Nine Hockey. Photo by Nine Hockey.

Regular readers will know that I like sharing my experiences from adult hockey camps (Ouellette-Poulin Adult Camp [2018] [2019] and Nine Hockey [2019]). Adult recreational players LOVE their hockey, but this fact is often lost on a lot of hockey coaches and programmers. Every time I walk past flyers in a rink, I look to see if there are any adult programs, but all the posters do is remind me that I am no longer between the ages of 5 and 18-years-old. When I started my job at Queen’s University, Dr. Mary Louise Adams and I would lament the lack of adult development opportunities at the rink for me as a hockey player and her as a figure skater. Eventually, it got to the point where we decided to put our consistent complaining to good use. We launched a two-part research project focused on exploring adult development programs for hockey and figure skating.

The first part of the project involved a survey to learn about:

  • Where people had participated in programs
  • How long they have been playing/skating
  • Who they learned from
  • How much they spend on development
  • How far they have travelled to access programs
  • What they learned in these programs
  • What barriers they may encounter when trying to improve their hockey or skating skills.

The second part involved interviewing coaches who were named in the survey to get their perspective on what it’s like to coach adults and why they think there are so few who offer adult programming. We are excited to share the survey report and some preliminary data from the coach interviews.

The bottom line is that many adults have money to spend and they want more time on the ice. The problem is that there are very few coaches and programs willing to take their money. Considering that the majority of the Canadian population is over the age of 18, it seems nonsensical that our funding and programming are disproportionately allocated to youth development. As Donnelly and Kidd (2015) have pointed out, the sporting system in Canada has long been bifurcated into two streams: high performance and participation. The high performance side is well-funded and the grassroots programs basically get what is left. The *minor* hitch in this plan, however, is that in order to have a robust and sustainable high performance system, you need a well-funded and wide-reaching grassroots program. One implication of this two-tiered system is that we tend to focus on and prioritize early sport-specialization. As the report points out, the hope that all youth will have “discovered” their sport, or tried a large variety of sports, before the age of about 8-years-old is far from realistic. The second major implication is that in our attempts to stream Canadian youth from playground to podium, there are fewer and fewer athletic opportunities as we age. Sport for life means that there needs to be opportunities throughout one’s lifespan. In order to grow hockey and figure skating, the sport systems need to look beyond youth groups and see adults as potential athletes who deserve legitimate development opportunities.

We asked one coach how he measures success with the adults he works with, and his response was, “Just the magic in their eyes.” Our report argues that sport organizations can grow their membership base, become more financially sustainable, and contribute to the social and physical well-being of Canadians. But as important as all those reasons are, helping adults (re)discover the magic in their eyes should be the only incentive one needs to start offering adult programming.

Works Cited

Donnelly, P., & Kidd, B. (2015). Two solitudes: Grass-roots sport and high-performance sport in Canada. In R. Bailey & M. Talbot (Eds.), Elite sport and sport-for-all: Bridging the two cultures? (pp. 57–71). London, UK & New York, NY: Routledge

One thought on “Growing the Game: Report on adult hockey and figure skating programs in Canada

  1. It’s important for adults to be able to participate in sports for their own mental and physical health, regardless of their skill level. if there is a demand, than there should be supply opportunities. These could be great business opportunities for coaches wanting to teach adults.

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