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Sports: Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed: Why more kids aren't in hockey is obvious to parents

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Like most Canadians, I love hockey and it’s an important part of my life. But it was not always that way. As much as my father and his friends loved watching the Habs play on Saturday nights while sipping chai and eating samosas, playing hockey was not something that I or any of my South Asian friends did. The cost of playing the sport was prohibitive for most immigrant families trying to build a new life. Instead, we watched the game on television, and I played street hockey with the neighbourhood boys.

While having kids in hockey is worthwhile, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed writes, the sport is expensive and places a major logistical burden on families. © Provided by The Gazette While having kids in hockey is worthwhile, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed writes, the sport is expensive and places a major logistical burden on families.

Fast forward. A few years ago, while we were watching hockey as a family, my now-teenage son said that he’d like to try playing. So we looked into what was involved and signed him up. That was the easy part. More complicated, however, has been planning our life around the sport. Hockey is a time-consuming activity, not just for the young participants, but for their families. And it’s an expensive one.

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Premier François Legault said last week that he would like to see more Quebecers playing hockey, and he named a committee to boost the number of young people involved in the sport.

Well, it shouldn’t take a blue-ribbon committee to know where to start. Just ask parents.

The barriers to entry are high for families. For many Quebecers, they are just too high, and this is particularly the case for immigrants and refugees.

Hockey programs are pricey, and so is equipment. If your child happens to play goalie, as my son now does, it’s even more expensive. While getting what you need second-hand helps, better quality equipment is needed as the child gets older and the hits get harder.

Another important consideration is the time requirement. At least one partner needs to be fully committed to driving the child to practices, games and tournaments. The tournaments — a typical hockey season might include two or three  — sometimes are local, but other times can be out of province and take place over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, meaning that a parent has to book at least one day off work.

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The scheduling demands present a logistical barrier to families where both parents have jobs, and the economic demands exclude many families that don’t.

For single-parent families, and/or families where there are several children, things can be even more challenging.

For members of racialized minorities, there can be an additional deterrent: Even for those who are Canadian-born, many do not play hockey because of the lack of inclusion and diversity in the sport. It is viewed as a sport mainly played by white people, and as such, many feel unwelcome.

My son has played hockey for six years now, and has been one of the few, if not only, visible minority players on his team in any given year. Members of visible minorities often feel a self-imposed onus to perform better, and hockey is no different. So over the years, we have invested in extra lessons, training camps, summer camps and holiday camps to help my son become a better goalie. This is something many parents do of course, not just visible minorities.

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The joy hockey brings my son is worth the price tag. The hockey community is tight-knit, with a great sense of camaraderie. Our son is fortunate to play on a team with amazing boys from great families. Meeting up with these families outside of hockey games and practices was something we enjoyed doing pre-pandemic. But all this is a privilege many cannot afford.

So, if Legault wants to see more Quebecers play hockey, the place to start is to address the real cost of equipment, ice time and tournaments, and somehow make scheduling more accessible. If he can do that, I for one, would be one very happy goalie mom.

Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed is the founder and editor in chief of CanadianMomEh.com, a lifestyle blog.

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