A regional taskforce is currently looking into why participation in youth organized sport is decreasing in this corner of the province.
Numbers are less than the provincial average, says Kim Palfenier, executive director of the Nelson Regional Sports Council.
“It is actually a very large topic of discussion,” she says. “The reasons are unclear at this time.”
Columbia Basin Trust and ViaSport are heading up the task force to develop a strategy addressing such an issue. The concern lies in whether this means youth are less active.
“If so, that’s not a good trend for health’s sake,” she says. “Overall, sport has been known to deliver benefits on more things than just physical activity. Personal development provided in team work, taking direction from coaching and commitment is priceless, not to mention, the added sense of belonging and friendships made that, in some instances, last a lifetime.”
Nelson Minor Hockey Association saw a decline in enrolment over the past decade that has slowed in the past couple years, says president Joyce Whiffen.
In 2013 there were 204 kids registered in minor hockey. In 2012, there were 239. In 2010, 280 kids hit the ice.
“We would obviously like to see more kids come out,” she says. “Across the country we are seeing numbers down in minor hockey.”
At a recent board meeting, the association discussed the issue of why their numbers are down.
Where as hockey was once the go to for youth sports, there are many more options today and a struggling economy means families may have to make choices between sports, says Whiffen. Though fees to play hockey in Nelson are less than those in other cities, the amount of travel expected is a financial deterrent for some.
“With the cost of gas and hotels and meals, I think that’s the part that’s harder for people to handle,” says Whiffen.
Over on the soccer pitches, Nelson Youth Soccer Association chair Chuck Bennett says this sport seems to be bucking a trend and he suggests being accessible is the key.
“Soccer is a neat sport in terms of you really need a pair of soccer cleats a set of shin pads — you can probably have your kid outfitted and into soccer for less than $200,” he says.
The Lakeside pitches are another attractant for the sport.
“We’re lucky to have that facility. It’s a fun place to have your kid out on a Saturday morning,” he adds.
NYS numbers peaked around the turn of the century with about 1,500 participants. Today, enrollment remains steady with around 1,100 members split between house and rep leagues.
“We started to see some declines with the older kids a few years ago and that hasn’t stopped,” says Bennett.
But investing in younger players has created a “bulge” at the U10 to U12 level, he adds.
From recreation to competitive, soccer offers membership at many different levels. Also attractive is a short season with participation scheduled in a way that allows families time for other pursuits.
“People in this community have a lot of different interests and a lot of them aren’t team sports,” Bennett says.
Palfenier says anecdotal evidence points to more participation in less organized or adhoc activities such as skateboarding, hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation pursuits that don’t require registration, facilities bookings or support people. This makes participation harder to track.
Individual sports membership also seems to be steady with organizations like Glacier Gymnastics Club working to increase usable space within their gym to accommodate additional programming.
In the last 10 years the club has seen their membership grow from 200 to over 700 participants. This season, Glacier Gymnastics had a wait list they couldn’t alleviate.
“The majority of our membership consists of families participating at a recreational level in our Gymnastics For All programs. Normally, we’ve always been able to meet demand for these programs and have consistently opened new classes to move people off the wait lists,” says club manager Steve Long. “This season has been the first time we’ve been unable to alleviate our wait lists, and it’s basically because the facility is maxed out during the peak times and there just isn’t room for additional programming.”
Developmental and competitive programs are filled through initiation and they run close to capacity.
Long credits a family atmosphere where achievement and challenge are balanced with fun as helping the club continue to draw kids.
For the Whitewater Ski Team, recruitment is key to ensuring they’ve got numbers. Their Nancy Greene program remains healthy despite other Nancy Greene teams seeing a decline in enrolment.
“I looked at our numbers in the fall and saw that numbers at the entry level were in a decline and went to work with some ideas on how to turn this around,” says coach Dylan Henderson. “If we don’t keep the numbers up at the U10 ages then we will suffer at the U16 ages later.”
He says overall team enrollment is up this season by 30 per cent with 75 athletes on the hill this year. He hopes to see continued growth and reaching out at community events, through media, social media and making themselves visible on the hill is a way to attract new families to the Alpine skiing sport.
“We have been working hard in the past couple of years to really brand ourselves in the community so that we can be one of the many choices when parents are looking into winter activities for their child. I feel that one of the important keys to our success is that we have tapped into the local mountain culture,” says Henderson. “We have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously and we make sure that we are as inclusive as possible.”
Minor hockey’s Whiffen believes Nelson is a “fairly strong hockey community” and the association doesn’t feel the need for a “big push” though attracting girls to hockey has been a focus.
“I think we feel pretty positive,” she says. “We’re really rooted in the community and people recognize it’s a good activity.”