Golf may not be alone, just ahead of the curve, in the challenges it faces in luring youngsters to the game and it’s becoming increasingly evident that even the granddaddy of Canadian games may face many of the same obstacles in the future.
Less excitement for hockey in this country may seem far-fetched given the recent excitement surrounding the beginning of the NHL season, but if you were around the golf industry in the 1990s, would you ever have thought that the game would be facing declining participation today?
In the case of hockey, there are plenty of us who will recall getting out of bed at 5 a.m. and trudging through the snow in the dark to the local arena on Saturday morning to play.
While fondly remembering those childhood memories, ask yourself if that would happen today, for no other reason than concern for childhood safety on those dark streets?
Certainly, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from people with younger children that hockey may not be their first choice, but it also becomes clear in this story by Amanda Shendruk in Maclean’s that appeared back in July.
One chart that she uses is based on a Canadian Heritage research paper on sport participation and. although it’s based on 2010 numbers, it shows that 22 per cent of children aged five to 14 played hockey, which trailed soccer (42 per cent) and swimming (24 per cent).
The Maclean’s article also uses a national study by the Institute of Canadian Citizenship that looked into how new citizens participate in sports. That showed, again not surprisingly, that soccer is the most popular team sport at 18 per cent, while just six per cent played hockey or baseball.
Sounding like the geezer I am, soccer wasn’t even on the radar when I was a kid although there was the opportunity to play, yet my daughter and her friends were big into it and she’s 28 now.
The Maclean’s story mentions expense – that sounds familiar to us in the golf industry – as a significant barrier to kids playing hockey, which explains the attraction to relatively inexpensive games such as soccer and basketball.
As for hoops, we saw Toronto go wild over the Raptors when they made the NBA playoffs last spring and while that may be something that comes and goes, the fact that the top draft choices in the NBA draft the past couple of years were Canadian says something about the way the game is connecting with kids in this country.
While playing soccer or basketball isn’t as as expensive as hockey and golf, remember too that it’s easy to play just about anywhere, the way road hockey used to be played, and still is in many Canadian neighbourhoods.
Soccer is familiar to many immigrants who come to this country, which makes it easy to gravitate to once they get here. Perhaps, as golf becomes more global in nature, it will become more familiar to those born beyond our shores.
Each sport has its unique challenges in drawing youth and even adults. There’s been great concern in hockey, for example, about concussions, a topic that might turn parents of potential players away from that game. That aside, golf and hockey faced many of the same challenges.
We tend to look inward for reasons that youth aren’t congregating at golf courses or arenas, but in both cases, there are external forces at work, as well.
Society is quickly changing around us and how we read it and react to it will play an important role in how any game looks 50 years from now.