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The State of Play

06/29/2016, 2:45pm MDT
By Michael Caples - Special to USAHockey.com

In May, USA Hockey’s Ken Martel took part in the 2016 Project Play Summit in Washington, D.C.

Martel, technical director for the American Development Model, served as a panelist for the Sport Sampling subcommittee of the summit, discussing ways to introduce children to sports and make them more accessible and more affordable for families.

The USA Hockey representative came away from the summit proud of his organization’s leadership when it comes to improving youth sports.

“For the last couple of years, hockey has been signaled out as a leader in youth sport, and in trying to improve the youth sports experience for kids,” Martel said. “Our ADM has been recognized as a leading example of that. It’s really become the model for other programs to follow, which is flattering.

“There are certainly other sports out there that are larger than ours in terms of numbers and resources, so for hockey to get this recognition, it’s good for our organization, good for all of our volunteers, good for all the people out there in the field doing the work with our kids.”

USA Hockey Earns Recognition

USA Hockey received special recognition from the Aspen Institute – the organizing body of the Project Play Summit – prior to the 2015 Project Play Summit, and for this year’s event, Martel said USA Hockey continued to serve as a leader for youth sports entities.

“The big takeaway for me was that it was really nice for USA Hockey to have a seat at the head table, so to speak, but even more important for us to get recognized for all the work that the people in the field and the staff and our board of directors have done over the past five or six years for our ADM program to get singled out as the lead organization in youth sports.”

30 Million More Opportunities

There is still plenty of work to be done for USA Hockey, of course. Martel left the Project Play Summit with one number in his mind: 30 million. That’s the estimated number of children in the United States who do not participate in organized sport.

“There are 20 million kids that play youth sports, and there are 30 million that don’t,” Martel said. “There are a whole lot of kids who sit on the sidelines. And where are those kids? We know that the vast majority is in the public school system. How do we get access to them? How do we let them sample different sports? How do we get involved, maybe come across a kid who never thought they would be interested in playing hockey, for example – how do we go about doing that?”

Get the Kids Moving

Martel said that the goal of his sport sampling subcommittee was to craft ways to introduce a variety of sports to children – activities that they may otherwise never experience.

“We created a sports sampling plan that we’re putting together with a bunch of other national governing bodies, and trying to potentially pitch this to schools and others as part of an after-school program that can easily be done,” Martel said. “Maybe we expose kids to our sport who have never been exposed before, and see if we can attract some new kids to ice hockey.

“If they decide that they like a different sport than ours, that’s no problem either, because at the end of the day, it’s creating opportunities for those 30 million kids to be more physical and happy and get more activity. It’ll make them healthier human beings.”

Resizing

With the success of the ADM, other national governing bodies are absorbing USA Hockey’s suggestions, and more sports are adapting to the needs of their young participants.

“For example, soccer just came out this year with their different field sizes for different ages and different playing numbers for different ages, and they build up to the full 11-on-11 soccer game at 11, 12, 13, something in that age,” Martel said. “We’ve been doing that with our cross-ice, half-ice program at 8-and-Under for a while. We’ve been out front with formal legislation and formal plans that have been put into play in USA Hockey.”

Martel said he left the summit feeling like USA Hockey has the support of its peers in the process of resizing the game to fit to growing players.

“Clearly we have teammates in this; there are other sports and other national governing bodies that are really working hard to give these things to kids.”

Reimagining

With so many various organizations, leagues and leaders all coming together for Project Play, youth sports in the U.S. is receiving widespread attention and thoughtful planning.

That should bode well for the future.

“We know that there are some issues; how do we reimagine youth sports for the betterment of the kids?” Martel said. “There is a lot to go into it, simply if you look at it from a health and well-being issue. We have, for example, rising childhood obesity rates across the country, physical activities for kids in youth sports – those things play a part in combating those issues. We have fewer kids playing youth sports than before, kids are dropping out at earlier ages, so there are all these issues that we explore with Project Play.

“Ultimately, we’re creating solutions, and that’s really what it’s all about.”

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