At 11:00 a.m. on Sunday June 16th, I was standing in one of the parking lots at CrossIron Mills, just north of Calgary. Normally, there would be hundreds of parked cars. Today, there were none. Instead, I was surrounded by 48 street hockey rinks, buzzing with players aged 6 to 60 playing hockey the way it should be played - for fun.
This was the Calgary venue for Hockey Night in Canada's Play On! This year there was an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest street hockey game. In total, 21 cities across Canada will contribute, across a nine-week schedule during May and June.
In 2013, the Hockey Night in Canada Play On! program is projected to involve over 6,000 teams and over 40,000 participants. The events will schedule more games being played and officiated than the NHL, NBA and NFL combined. "We have held the record unofficially for some time now, but in 2013 we'll officially become the World's Largest Street Tournament, and we could not be more excited" said Commissioner Scott Hill, "It's all in the name of unifying our Country around a cultural passion, having fun, and helping kids feel like NHL pros and adults to feel like kids again".
This is good news because there's a growing trend of kids quitting sports. A recent report from the US stated that of the 20 million children registered for baseball, soccer, football, hockey and other competitive sports; about 70% of those will quit by age of 13. Also, according to the National Alliance of Sports, these kids will never play those sports again. Lost without a trace; so it's back to the computer games.
What's the reason for this incredible attrition? Why would millions of kids walk away from an activity which is meant to be fun? Well, the reason is it's not fun, not when Mum and Dad are "Yellers". Children are embarrassed by parents behaving aggressively on the sideline of junior sports event, especially their own. Telling a 16 year-old "You're not trying hard enough" or "You'll be cut from the team" is bad enough. But telling a 6 year old is, surely, unacceptable.
We've lost the concept of play for play's sake. When you play you learn. When you learn you grow.
Walking around the rinks, I could hear the laughing and cheering. On one rink were two junior teams and, two rinks over, were teams of elite players. I especially liked the motto on the shirts of one group of under 7's, "Top of the Food Chain".
I'm also thrilled to see that this event is in support of Right To Play. We sometimes forget how lucky we are in Canada to have the freedom to play. In many countries, because of war, poverty or child labour, this is not possible. All children have a right to play and as parent's it's up to us to ensure they have that opportunity.