RICHMOND HILL, Ont. — A minor hockey association in southern Ontario has launched its first-ever registration campaign as organized sports plan their return to play in the province.
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association said it hopes to boost enrolment numbers that have been stagnant for five years. Ian Taylor, the association's executive director, said that the "Stronger" campaign came out of a recognition that playing hockey isn't an essential experience for Canadian children anymore.
"Hockey is Canadiana and in the past I guess you could take it for granted that kids would just play hockey automatically and now what we see if that kids and their families have a lot of options," said Taylor. "Probably for the first time ever we have to sell our product, sell our sport, sell our activity and the benefits of it."
The OMHA also hopes to promote the mental health benefits of hockey after COVID-19 restrictions put sports on hold in Ontario for most of the past 15 months. A survey of 3,000 OMHA players found that 80 per cent of them felt hockey helped reduce feelings of isolation, their stress level and anxiety this past year.
Taylor said that the timing of the campaign is to encourage kids to get active again after the pandemic took such a toll on families.
"We've heard so much about the challenges of families and kids with physical and mental well-being, so we're going to come out (out of the pandemic) stronger," said Taylor. "We're going to rebound from this thing."
The OMHA is the largest minor hockey association in Canada and represents 225 minor hockey associations around Ontario. Part of the OMHA's catchment area includes Markham and Brampton, areas with large communities of new Canadians, a group Taylor hopes to introduce to hockey.
"We think hockey is a fantastic sport, but we also think it's part of our culture and that it defines us," said Taylor. "That pulls everyone together and for someone new to the sport I think that inclusiveness and being part of something is something we're very proud of."
Taylor also said that the "Stronger" campaign is geared to breaking down the perception that cost is a barrier to playing hockey at the minor level. He said that OMHA has developed several programs designed to provide used equipment to new players at lower price points.
A YouTube video promoting the Stronger campaign garnered over 20,000 views after it was published on Monday morning.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press