SportsEvents Magazine

SEP 2017

SportsEvents is edited for those who plan tournaments or other sports events.

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Page 36 of 59 September 2017 37 t SPORT Report has won three gold medals in this tourna- ment in the past decade, more than any other nation. The competition will feature the first-ever outdoor game played as part of the event. Also, giving great visibility to the sport are the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, both of which are coming up in 2018. "We're excited about the Games and all that comes with it because it's an opportunity to showcase our sport," Fischer said. "Nothing shines the light so bright on hockey. There's just nothing close to the Olympics or the Paralympics. We're excit- ed about taking advantage of that." In the meantime, USA Hockey is pursu- ing all avenues to grow the sport on many other levels. Over the past few years, the organization has focused heavily on the 8-and-under age category to grow partic- ipation. "We want that entry-level age to increase, so we want to make sure kids in that 8-and-under group have a chance to at least try the sport," Fischer said. "We typ- ically find that when they try hockey, they like it and want to continue." To appeal to younger prospective play- ers, USA Hockey started the "Try Hockey For Free" program. Every year, USA Hockey organizes two days during which it provides the infrastructure for its local pro- grams—approximately 2,500 associations nationwide—across the country to let kids come in and try out the sport. Another initiative, "Learn To Play," is a new endeavor in cooperation with the NHL. Learn To Play provides kids ages 5 to 8 with an opportunity to learn how to play hockey under the guidance of a certified coach with free head- to-toe equipment. The program helps kids build hockey skills and thus builds their confidence in the sport. "It's another way that we're getting kids starting the sport at an early age and this is a great way to help them learn how to skate and do some of the basics," Fischer said. "It's another great program helping us try to move the needle little by little towards more participation." So far, programs such as these targeting the 8-and-under age group are succeeding. For the 2016-17 season, USA Hockey saw an increase in participation in the age group, hitting a new record this year. But the organization is also growing other areas successfully as well. USA Hockey recently added blind hockey to its disabled hockey disciplines, as well as warrior hockey for veterans, growing overall from four disci- plines to six. "We firmly believe hockey is for everyone," Fischer said. "We want to continue providing opportunities for all as we are able." USA Hockey also wants to keep all participants safe while playing, so the orga- nization has continued improving its safety program. The group has always maintained a comprehensive safety program but it has made many enhancements over the last few years, especially related to reporting alleged misconduct and digital communica- tions. "Our top priority is safety," Fischer said. "We want to provide a fun environ- ment that is also safe so kids can meet their full potential." Part of hockey helping kids reach their full potential is the many off-the-ice qual- ities they learn while participating in the team sport, Fischer said, from discipline and drive to teamwork and camaraderie. "I don't think there is any questions that hockey teaches a number of critical skills needed in life and teamwork probably tops that list," he said. "Hockey is unique among sports in that it builds a unique camaraderie in that while it's a physical sport, it teaches a lot about respect and car- ing for one another. There is so much kids can learn about life through hockey." n

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