Everyone knows Canadians love hockey, but few realize that Ontario is home to the largest amateur minor hockey league in the world.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) is a non-profit organization that registers more than 40,000 participants including players from ages four to 20 every year. With over 100 seasons under their belt, there are few organizations better suited to comment on trends in amateur sport, and few people more qualified than Scott Oakman, GTHL Executive Director and COO, to comment on the needs of the new generation of players and the kinds of support sports organizations are looking for.
“One of our biggest concerns in hockey right now is accessibility. It’s become increasingly important to build relationships with long-term partners who share the same values to help eliminate barriers to play. Add to that, the GTA and Ontario are increasingly diverse. There are many new kids and families who’ve had no exposure to hockey, which even concerns teams at the professional level and what that means to their future fan base. We’ve made major efforts to introduce the game and transition new players, with an 80% success rate by operating programs in the community like the First Shift program and the GTHL Rookie Camp. We’ve worked ahead on this, and now we’re ready to make a splash.”
What amateur organizations and their players need most from their partners is true investment. Not just funding, but an understanding of what these organizations offer, and what they are trying to do for young players. The GTHL was a natural partner for Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s Recharge With Milk initiative, not only because of the shared goal of helping to make hockey more affordable and accessible for young players, but because the opportunity matched a palpable shift toward real nutrition in sport. “There has been a clear transition in what arenas and snack bars are carrying — they now sell milk or chocolate milk, they don’t sell as many sports drinks.” says Oakman. “Players from the pro level down are consuming things that are healthier than sugary drinks. It’s almost a cultural change in the hockey world. The presence and consumption of milk has seen a massive increase. Opportunities to align values with real-life opportunities work best for everyone.”
When asked about his organization’s ultimate goal, Oakman is clear. “Perhaps surprisingly, our goal isn’t to develop better competitive hockey players. What we really want to do is give young people the right experience so they become athletes and hockey players for life. My advice to young hockey players is to go out and play. To play good hockey, you need access to as many different athletic endeavours as possible.”
“At the end of the day, we all hope to end up in the same place— playing shinny hockey on an outdoor rink. And that’s a win for us.”
Dairy Farmers of Ontario is proud to support the quality of training and sport opportunities the GTHL provides to Ontario hockey players.