Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Canadian kids don't care their hockey team lost

with 4 comments

With all the alleged gnashing of teeth and rending of sweaters in Canada over its Olympic hockey team’s 5-3 loss to the United States on home ice in Vancouver Sunday night, I would like to take you back to a post of mine from August 2009 about a study showing that Canadian kids care less and less about the presumed national sport.

To be so self-referential I’m going to get inside my own mind like John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich,” here is what I wrote earlier about Canadian youth and their relationship with hockey. The survey, by University of Lethbridge (Alberta) sociology professor Reginald Bibby, was done in the context of the possibility of southern Ontario becoming the seventh Canadian market for the National Hockey League.

According to Bibby’s survey of 5,500 Canadian teens, the interest in the NHL fell to 35 percent in 2008 from 45 percent in 1992. The decline in Ontario was 40 to 28, with only 20 percent of Toronto teens following the league. …  Of those teens whose parents, and themselves, were born in Canada, 40 percent followed the NHL. Of those teens who were born (and whose parents were born) outside of Canada, only 20 percent were interested in the NHL. Those non-native born teens were mostly likely to follow the NBA (31 percent) and soccer (30 percent).

Blake Lambert of the Faster Times cited Bibby’s research in creating his own reaction to Canada’s Olympic loss: “Canada Loses in Hockey. So What?”

In my corner of downtown Toronto, which is home to immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, I have yet to see a single child play street hockey. At the middle school up the street, basketball and soccer are fashionable; cricket is even a summertime pursuit at a park northeast of my home.

In the Toronto area — not just the city, but the suburbs, too — 45.7 percent of all residents are foreign-born as of the 2007 Canadian census, up from 43.7 percent five years previously. In Vancouver, where fans are presumably feeling the pain a little more because the last American goal was scored by Vancouver Canuck Ryan Kesler, 39.6 percent of all residents are foreign-born. English is the primary household language of 54.1 percent of Canadians, while the other official language, French, is at only 1.2 percent. Outdistancing the francophones are Chinese (all dialects), 8.1 percent, Italian, 3.7 percent, and Punjabi, 2.6 percent.

[youtubevid id=”w4_am9yXuDM”]

A Punjabi sports show, based in Vancouver.

In the whole of Canada, 20 percent — one out of five — residents was born somewhere other than under the Maple Leaf flag. The government itself says Canada’s growth is almost wholly reliant on immigration. By comparison, the United States has a foreign-born population of 12.6 percent.

Certainly it would be ridiculous to dismiss out-of-hand the agony many Canadians feel over their loss to the United States. However, by the numbers, it looks like hockey in Canada is going to evolve culturally like basketball in my native Indiana.

The sport will always be a strong part of the culture. But as time goes on, as the population changes, and as children are given more choices for sports and activities than their forebears, the intensity of the pain of having a loser in “our” game will be lesser for youth than it is for middle-agers, who remember the glory days when a single sport was everything.

Written by rkcookjr

February 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

4 Responses

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  1. It appears that you are using two terms interchangeably, when they are not, in fact, interchangeable:
    1) Hockey (or “the presumed national sport” of Canada)
    2) The NHL

    Do you love football? Well then you must love the Canadian Football League, right? Why must all Canadians be expected to love the NHL if they love hockey?

    I love basketball but I hate the NBA. Those are not synonymous to me (or anyone I know).
    Most U.S. kids play soccer, but most adults don’t watch MLS. They aren’t synonymous, either.
    Examples abound.


    February 22, 2010 at 9:21 pm

  2. OK, because you need more proof, here it is:

    Golf passed hockey as Canada’s No. 1 participation sport in 1998.

    Soccer has passed hockey as Canada’s No. 1 participation sport for those ages 5 to 14.

    U.S. hockey participation has tripled, while in Canada it has grown stagnant. Girls’ hockey is making up for some of the losses of boys.

    Of course, hockey has a long way to go down in Canada before it is no longer the national sport. But it’s not the only thing anymore.

    Bob Cook

    February 22, 2010 at 9:54 pm

  3. Bob,
    Not sure what you’re trying to say here. Is it the fact that Canada his becoming more diverse than the states or is hockey becoming less popular. Having been in Canada all my live being involved in hockey, I can tell you Canada is much more diverse than the States as you state with the numbers still becoming new citizens from all around the world. Hockey has lost some of it’s popularity in Canada, but it is still far and away the #1 passion sport in their country. Part of the challenge for hockey are similar to the states issues in that the sport is simply becoming more and more expensive to play. For years most of Canada’s rinks were subsidized by the provinces which kept the costs down, but many of those rinks are in need of upgrades and the cash for those projects has dropped off. The new rinks going up are private companies trying to make a profit and add to that the steep price increases with the advent of the hi tech sticks that can often cost more than your ice expenses and other equipment combined. Maybe Canada needs to get into province subsidized sticks to reign in costs?
    Hockey however, is still the king far and away. As much as other sports have grown, they will never overtake hockey, as the cultural and environmental opportunities the outdoor rinks and frozen ponds will always draw people to the ice. I’ve always thanked my lucky stars that I gravitated to hockey, as it makes the toughness of winter becomes the best part of my year.


    February 23, 2010 at 10:02 am

  4. It’s both — as Canada becomes more diverse, hockey becomes less popular. No less an authority than Elliotte Freidman (Canadian broadcast journalist) has told me that the Maple Leafs’ secret fear is Toronto’s incredible amount of new immigrants not being turned to hockey, although in the Leafs’ case you can argue that their historic lousiness could turn even native Canadians off to hockey.

    I would agree that hockey will remain No. 1 in Canada, which is why I drew the parallel with Indiana, where basketball will always be king, but kids are discovering other sports as well.

    You bring up a good point about funding. A big challenge with hockey is just how incredibly expensive it is. Forget, say, the impact of Punjabi immigrants who might be more enthused about kabbadi. The relatively low cost of soccer and basketball could increasingly have Canadian parents sending their kids in those directions.

    Bob Cook

    February 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

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