World Hockey Summit Day 4: Women’s Hockey, Player Participation and Retention

Wrapping up the 2010 Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, the final day of the event saw an in-depth look at the women’s game and the challenges around junior player recruitment and retention within the sport we all love. Hayley Wickenheiser, who’s been the voice of women’s hockey and one of it’s strongest advocates, teamed up with some big names in women’s hockey to make their case and it was not only well-received but it was probably one of the most necessary discussions that took place this week.

Hayley, Ashley Ruggeirro of Team USA (and newly appointed IOC member), Mel Davidson and a host of other women’s hockey advocates took the stage today to assess the state of women’s hockey, something that needs incredible attention if the sport is to survive. Some of the statistics raised were simply shocking but at the end of the day there was no surprise that the issues hindering women’s hockey are primarily financial and societal. With that said however there is certainly progress being made and countries like Finland, for example, have seen a 78% growth in their women’s program in the last couple of years.

When the CHB bloggers got together to talk about this issue prior to the summit, the solution we kept circling back to was increased funding and player retention. The funding has to come from the international bodies and today the IIHF’s vice president Murray Costello said on behalf of Rene Fasel and the IIHF that they were committing another 2 million dollars to the development of the women’s game internationally. Coming out of the World Hockey Summit that’s a huge take away in and of itself. The fact that we were able to come away with something concrete is tremendous. If there was one aspect of the summit that was likely to influence change that would come quickly and effectively it was the discussions around the women’s game and that makes the whole event a positive and successful endeavour.

The latter half of the summit’s last day was focused on the retention of youth in our hockey program. Hockey USA has identified that over 40% of their players leave the sport by the age of 9. That’s a huge problem, particularly because the USA is one of the stronger hockey nations. The panel saw representatives from Sweden, Finland, Canada and the USA who shared their programs and the different techniques in which they attempted to improve development of their young players while increasing retention. The resounding message being conveyed was in line with increasing parental support and buy-in to the game as well as making the sport a fun one to play.

It’s not often that the world convenes at an international event like this, and while the big players in the game that attended may not have taken anything away from it, other facets of the game and the international federations in countries that still have very young and developing programs will be affected the most by the discussions that took place this week in Toronto. We still don’t know if the NHL will allow it’s players to go to the Sochi Olympics, and we haven’t come up with a solution to player retention, player recruitment, player safety and player transfer between North America and Europe. With all that said though, the fact that there is the increased potential that change will come as a result is a huge step in the right direction and we can only hope that these global thought leaders in the sport we love so much will take what was tabled here and use it to invoke positive change for the game.

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