North Americans are fat. We are in the worse shape in the 230+ years of our existence. A number of factors have contributed to this problem, like TV, computer games, and maybe even fast food. McDonald's is not the blame. We had them when I was growing up too. The difference is that we skated outside; we played in the gym, and burned off every calorie from every french-fried potato and cheeseburger.
Another factor, that is not getting the blame, is that our school system has all but phased out physical education. This has led to even more obesity in our nation's children. This factor has also led to a widespread decline in the participation numbers of all of our sports, including hockey.
A factor in the decline in youth hockey registrations is the costs. The costs associated with our sport can be very high, and will continue to increase. These costs have turned the game into an elitist sport and will lead to a continued decrease in registrations. So, what can we do as a sport? We need to introduce programs that foster inexpensive participation while also helping to combat the fitness problem.
More. Every rink owner in the country should create a program where local kids can learn to skate for free. Remember the equipment closet? It needs to come back. Young kids grow out of skates much faster than the skates are ever going to wear out, pass them back. The same goes for pads and other equipment. Pass it all back. Our rink owners need to look at this program as an investment in their customer base. Reaching out to the corporate community could also be more effective with a free hockey program for novice players.
Now, back to the schools. Remember the balance beam? It is all but gone. There is a direct relation between learning to read and the beam. Children that can keep their balance also learn to read at a faster rate. I graduated in 1984 and remember physical education being a huge part of my development in elementary school. In middle and high school, PE led to higher participation numbers in athletics.
In the end it is all about money. But is it? Physical Education should be just as important as Math, English, and Science. 30 years from now, the cost of taking care of these now obese children will far outweigh the cost of keeping PE in the schools.
Getting more of these kids into our game is also going to be good for the bottom line for rink operators.
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