Hockey is only as good as its foundation.
For that reason, the Molson World Hockey Summit made sure it closed four days of soul-searching about the state of the game with an in-depth look at ways to increase the levels of youth population across the globe.
Scott Smith, Hockey Canada's chief operating officer; Pat Kelleher, the assistant executive director of membership development for USA Hockey; Finland's Arto Sieppi, Sweden's Tommy Boustedt and Dr. Paul Dennis, the recently retired mental skills coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs,talked about the problems in attracting young players to the sport.
They were joined in the discussion by Cyril Leeder, the president of Senators Sports and Entertainment, and Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough, each of whom discussed youth hockey initiatives in their markets.
All the panelists acknowledged that much work remains, but each felt that the challenges they face can be overcome and that Thursday's discussion at the Summit will only help in that quest.
"I'm bullish on hockey," Leeder said in the conclusion of his speech. "I think the game will continue to grow in Canada, and throughout the world."
Hockey around the world is facing difficulties luring new youth participants for a variety of reasons, including misconceptions about the sport being too violent or expensive, competition from other sporting options as the sports landscape diversifies and the precipitous drop in physical activity by much of today's youth.
In that competitive atmosphere, hockey must make every attempt to set itself apart from other sports. Dr. Dennis said perhaps the best way to do that is to insulate participants from the stresses we introduce the game at too early an age by emphasizing winning and performance.
Dr. Dennis says youngsters are falling victim to "Athletic Darwinism" because they are asked to put winning first well before it should naturally evolve into a primary objective.
Return the game to a fun exercise youngsters can participate in with their friends and it will once again be an attractive option for children.
"We need to motivate these kids," Dr. Dennis said. "We need to help youngsters develop the emotional skills so they can meet the challenges of competition."
Smith says that quality coaching by informed professionals could teach children that “every obstacle should be seen as a challenge and a thrill and not as pressure.”
Sieppi, meanwhile, stressed the we must sell the game to the parents, who make the decisions on whether their children will give the sport a chance.
"All parents want is the best thing for their kids, so hockey has to be fun and safe," Sieppi said-- Shawn P. Roarke