If you own a street/roller hockey rink, or run a municipal street/roller hockey program, your primary focus should be KIDS: Clinics for kids, leagues for kids, programs for kids, anything and everything for KIDS. From preschool to high school: GET ‘EM PLAYING.

To some, this isn’t as obvious as it should be.

Several rinks/programs I know cater exclusively to adults, or have minimal youth programs. They also have a customer base quickly approaching 40 and ready to stop playing.

Yet they can’t see the forest for the trees. EXCUSES, EXCUSES. Adults are easy pay; kids aren’t. Adult teams organize themselves; kids’ teams don’t. Adult teams don’t need coaches; kids’ teams do. It’s too hard to go into the community to get kids to play.

The first excuse is ABSURD. Yet I hear it. Mom and Dad are perfectly willing to finance Junior’s hockey, provided it’s a decent product. If it’s not, the kid just won’t play. Parents rarely deadbeat. Since you give kids more (jersey, coaching, etc.), you can charge more. And you can sell all of them equipment.

As for adults being easy pay, DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH. Getting every last dollar from adult teams is a CHORE. TORTURE.

There’s some truth to the other excuses. Good programs DO register kids as individuals. Kids’ teams DO need coaches. You DO need to advertise. Distribute info in schools if possible.

But that’s just part of doing business. Too many rink owners/program directors think opening a rink = money flying in. It’s NOT THAT EASY. But kids’ programs can create customers for life.

It’s not difficult to get help for youth hockey. It takes some convincing, but communities will pitch in with sponsorship. The NHL Penguins have done plenty for street hockey in Pittsburgh, my home town, including providing discounted equipment for local rinks’ “Learn to Play Street Hockey” programs. The Penguins are also building 16 street hockey rinks exclusively for kids’ use.

Do clinics. TEACH THE KIDS TO PLAY. Make it enjoyable. That’s how you breed customers. I recommend clinics for kids 4-6. Start leagues when they reach 7.

Make sure your coaches are responsible, mature adults. They don’t have to be Dan Bylsma. But they must understand that the kids aren’t THEIR TEAM, they’re YOUR CUSTOMERS. TEACH. LEARN. At some point, play to win. But FUN COMES FIRST.

GROW THE GAME. It’s a phrase I hear thrown around a lot. Youth programs are the best way to GROW THE GAME. If you ignore/minimize kids, you’re doing your business/program a disservice that puts an expiration date on what you do.

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