There are some startling facts when it comes to USA Hockey membership numbers: over the last 10 years, 50 percent of hockey players don’t make it to Squirts, and 30 percent only play one season.
“As the landscape changes, we too must change,” says Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “As many activities are realizing, there is ever-greater competition for a family’s finite time and dollars. That is why ‘growing the game’ has to become not just a slogan, but a cause – one which requires a staff focused on nothing else everyday when they come to work.”
Last year at Annual Congress, USA Hockey introduced the Membership Development department to focus on acquiring new participants to the game and retaining current players. Under the direction of Pat Kelleher, staff members Courtney Welch, Kevin Kavanagh and Kevin Erlenbach are focusing the efforts of USA Hockey toward the elimination of the two main barriers to entry in hockey: cost and time commitment.
By August, there will be more than15,000 sets of OneGoal equipment around the country. More and more youth associations are offering “try hockey for free” programs and reducing the length of the season for younger kids. These types of initiatives create a new level of opportunity for incoming players to try the sport and are being utilized by the department to get new kids into the game.
To assist local associations in growing their programs, a new “Come Play Youth Hockey” campaign is being introduced at this year’s Congress. This is a new level of branding what youth hockey offers to kids, and the message is targeted to parents of 4- to 8-year-olds.
A Program Services division has also been created within the department to provide local associations with the resources to deliver the best youth sports experience in their community.
The Program Services staff, which oversee regional areas, will focus its efforts in several key areas:
• Creating direct communication channels with volunteer leaders of USA Hockey’s more than 2,500 local associations
• Organizing step-by-step marketing models and developing Best Practice’s materials to assist programs with growth initiatives
• Developing a consistent marketing campaign and resources to focus on attracting new 4- to 8-year-olds to hockey
• Assisting local associations with implementation of national programs such as Hockey Weekend Across America and the American Development Model
• Creating an online resource for local association leaders to gain easier access to information from all of USA Hockey’s programs
With the department’s focus on acquisition and retention, there are many questions to be addressed. Fortunately, one of the answers is already in place in the form of the American Development Model. The principles behind the ADM will help USA Hockey and local association’s attract new kids to the game and create a structure to keep more kids in hockey.
Growing the game is more than a slogan; it is the cause for the Membership Development department. With staff and resources in place, USA Hockey can help more kids and families experience youth hockey.