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USA Hockey Gaining Steam

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Several years ago, USA Hockey began to see an alarming development: the organization noticed a decline in youth player registration. Immediately recognizing this as a problem that would continue to escalate if left unaddressed, the organization began a push on the growth and retention of 8 & under players, otherwise known as “Mites”. The motive behind targeting the youngest age group was due in large part to the fact that USA Hockey observed fewer new 14 and 15 year-old players entering hockey. The organization’s aim was to grow and retain more of the youngest players, thus creating more Midget (16 & under and 18 & under), high school and adult-age hockey players as each group of Mites gets older.

As a result of USA Hockey’s new approach they, as well as the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association (PVAHA), have seen all-time high Mites registrations this past season. In fact, USA Hockey’s acknowledgement of the drop in player registration numbers and their subsequent action was well ahead of other youth sports in the United States, and even ahead of hockey powerhouse Canada.

The number of participants for Little League Baseball has been steadily dropping over the last 16 years. For example, from 2000 to 2009, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball fell 24%, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. Participation in youth tackle football has grown 21% over the same time span, while ice hockey registration has soared 38%. Furthermore, more than 500,000 players registered with USA Hockey in 2010, up from 195,000 10 years prior, more than doubling the number of players in the USA Hockey system. On Jan. 24, 2011, USA Hockey reported on their Twitter page (@usahockey) that “USA Hockey's 8 & under membership has officially reached 100,000 for the first time ever. Thanks for helping grow the game!!”

This growth is due in large part to the American Development Model that USA Hockey is promoting. The focus of this model is to discover the best methods with which to train the youth players. More emphasis is being placed on skill development at a younger age. As USA Hockey keeps the costs down and focuses on skill development, they become successful in bringing more players into the game while also retaining current players.

How does the D.C. metro area measure up when it comes to the growth in youth hockey? According to John Coleman, President of the PVAHA, as of April 30, 2011, there were 17,194 players registered with USA Hockey within Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. This represents an increase of 1,875 players, or 12.2%, over the number of players (15,319) registered for the 2009-10 season. Potomac Valley’s 2009-10 player registration was an increase of 8.3% over their player registration numbers for the 2008-09 season. Player registration growth during a period of economic difficulty, Coleman asserted, is due in large part to the hard work of PVAHA’s associations and rinks.

Coleman maintained that Potomac Valley’s Mite registration has also seen growth over the past couple of years. The overall number of 8 & under players registered within PVAHA for 2010-11 was 2,331, a 22% increase, making this season the peak for the past five years and the fourth consecutive year of growth for 8 & under player registration. Additionally, new player registrations increased to 1,298 kids, a 26.8% increase from the 2009-10 season and retained player numbers increased 16.5% to 1,033 from last season. PVAHA is one of only three USA Hockey affiliates (Minnesota and New York) to have shown growth at 8 & under age registration for each of the past 5 years.

Finally, the 2010-11 season marked both the highest amount of new players, boys and girls, entering the game over the past five years as well as the highest number of retained players in five years.

These encouraging trends at the local level can be traced in part to the many new, innovative and exciting programs that have resulted from the collaboration between Washington Capitals Charities and PVAHA’s John Crerar Hockey Development Grant Program. The Capitals take pride in this partnership and during the 2010-11 season, the organization was able to make grants totaling $25,000 to area programs in order to promote the growth of hockey within the footprint of the PVAHA. This season, Potomac Valley used the grants to promote initiatives such as bringing new players age 8 & under into hockey and fostering the ADM at that age level, advancing diversity hockey within Potomac Valley and furthering the growth of disabled hockey as well as girls hockey within the organization.

“The Washington Capitals have been very supportive of affiliate efforts to grow hockey in our area,” said Coleman. “The funds provided by the Caps have allowed us to assist local associations grow hockey at the base.”

The growth and cultivation of youth hockey, both nationally and regionally, is a testament to the dedication, passion and foresight of those committed to being disciples of the game. Finishing the 2010-11 season with such strong numbers creates much excitement for a continuation of this progression.
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