Like many things in life, it is important to understand the context in which we are operating. There can be politics involved, a long history of upheaval or change, intense rivalries, strong and passionate personalities - often fuelled by lack of resources and uncertainty.
Sport is no different. Ice sports is no different.
Now more than ever, a united ice sports industry is critical given that ice skating in Australia, and South Australia in particular, does not have anywhere near the participation levels of some of the country’s really popular and successful sports such as football, tennis and netball. And of course there are reasons for that, not least of which is the significant cost of building and running rinks.
Increased participation is the key to growing any sport, to remaining viable and affordable, and to help grow the elite side of the sport. It is important to remember that those who “play” recreationally are often the audiences at state, national and international games and competitions. They spend money in our venues and show their loyalty through purchase of memberships and merchandise. They take part in fundraising events, spread the news through social media, and they live and breathe the sports they love.
A broad grass roots base supports a strong and elite competitive apex.
“Recreational” does not mean “non-competitive”. There are many ways to compete and at RISA we believe that, whatever your sport, both recreational and competitive systems should work together to provide genuine opportunities to participate and to compete.
Our philosophy is in line with the hugely popular Ice Sports Industry (ISI) in the United States of America, which has a 50-year history of supporting growth in ice sports through recreational participation and cross over between competitive and recreational streams.
In his article Hearing the Silent Majority (ISI Edge magazine Winter 2012), Peter Martell Executive Director of the ISI says “ . . . our challenge is to provide fun and rewarding programs at convenient times and affordable prices that encourage participation and do not eliminate participants due to age, ability, inconvenient schedules or financial limitations. It is not in a rink's best interest to offer a limited number of activities to a limited number of participants that only a limited number of families can afford!”
He goes on to say, “The present “American" emphasis on “elite or “travel” programs must be replaced with a philosophy that encourages a fun and rewarding experience for the “average kid” while still providing a path for the truly talented to compete at a higher level. Focusing on the development of “elite” athletes only serves to discourage and eliminate the majority from participating, which is not good for them, their coaches, their clubs or our facilities.”
I believe this is also true for Australia and not just for the “average kid”, but for people of any age, culture or ability.
RISA wants to work with the South Australian Ice Skating Association (SAISA), Ice Hockey SA, Broomball SA, national associations, rinks and ice sports clubs to ensure there are more opportunities to grow ice sports and to keep people in ice sports.
Of course there has to be elite pathways. No one wants to see those disappear. It is the elite end of the sport that keeps the passion alive for everyone. We love to watch the Winter Olympics, the national figure skating championships, national and international ice hockey games and events – don’t we?!
In South Australia ice sports cannot afford to be exclusive and to choose any one system over another.
In the United States there is a joint statement of cooperation between U.S. Figure Skating, the Professional Skaters Association (PSA) and the Ice Skating Institute (ISI), which recognises and supports each other’s role in the development of figure and recreational skating. It allows for participation in various ISI-endorsed recreational skating activities without violating the rules of U.S. Figure Skating.
Why is this important? Not all elite competitors arrive through fast-tracked high-end programs, which not only risk excluding some athletes early in the system, but can also lead to burnout. Elite competitors can also come from recreational backgrounds where they have been able to progress at their own pace, moving to a more elite path if and when they are ready. Case in point over the last two Olympics the US Olympic Figure Skating Team included some big names including Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds, Ashley Wagner, Jason Brown, Simon Shnapir, Felicia Zhang, Madison Chock Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu, and pairs skaters Alexa Scimecca Knierim and Chris Knierimare who were all former ISI skaters.
Why wouldn’t we want meaningful recreational opportunities across all ice sports – opportunities that would help to grow ice sports and ultimately broaden the pool of competitive skaters and players?