“Thinking outside the box and offering hockey as a recreational physical activity that involves a pair of skates, a stick and a puck in order to enhance the appeal of the sport.”
That statement is the gist of the challenge as perceived by Hockey Alberta’s senior operations manager Brad Robbins.
A native of Stettler, Robbins has been with Hockey Alberta since August 1999 and he has extensive knowledge of the issues currently facing the hockey establishment in the province.
After completing his studies at the Red Deer College, Robbins received his degree in physical education at the University of Alberta, majoring in the management and business of sports.
Having recently moved back to Stettler after residing for many years in Red Deer, Robbins now commutes to work, the headquarters of Hockey Alberta located in Red Deer.
“We love this town and when my wife had an opportunity, we chose to return to this community,” he said as he was preparing to go on the ice at the Stettler Recreation Centre to start the first of his twice weekly coaching sessions for the hockey initiation program.
Having learned to skate when he was three and played at all minor hockey levels before becoming a member of the first Stettler Lightning team in 1993, the year it was created, Robbins has a devotion for hockey.
“I have developed an overall passion for the sport and that started directly with my involvement in hockey in Stettler, be it through playing or as a recreation leader in the community,” he said of his dedication to the national sport.
“It gave me a passion to teach people how to do things in terms of skating and puck handling and all different types of skill levels that the players need.”
“I also did a bit of coaching when I was still in Stettler, mainly with my younger brother and at the time I was also going to the Red Deer College,” he said.
“After I finished college I also stopped playing junior B hockey and moved on to studying at the University of Alberta.
At Hockey Alberta, Robbins says the biggest challenge they face is the declining percentage of participation in the sport among the youth of ages five to 17.
Foremost among the factors contributing to this decline is the increasing number of choices for kids to pass their time outside their home and school.
“Being a hockey person, I believe in the benefits of the sport and I would like all kids in the province to have an opportunity to play hockey, whatever level that may be,” says Robbins.
“Our challenge is being somebody to everybody, whether you are a leading athlete or a recreational player, being able to serve all those groups by providing leadership, development, access and opportunities to practice the sport throughout the province in cooperation with minor hockey associations, municipalities and facility operators.”
Robbins says they are mindful that they need to renew the mind set in a way that focuses more on player recruitment and retention.
“Hockey season now continues for up to six months, would it be better if the season was to be shortened or could the hockey setup be modified to make it as much a recreational activity as much as competitive sport,” he asks.