Long before Chris Billeter was the director of adult hockey for the Salt Lake County league in Utah, he was a player.
So he knows that joining an adult hockey league is about fitness and competition—but he also knows that often it is about more than that.
In a lot of ways it’s like joining a club, Billeter says. “Everybody wants to play with their friends, and that’s what makes it fun. It’s not just hockey. It’s also a social outing for a lot of people.”
It only gets better if you can recruit new friends to play with you—but that can be easier said than done. So let’s examine a handful of crucial elements needed in order to help make it happen:
We’ve heard countless stories of newbies falling in love with the game at first sight. But in order to start that fire, you have to light the match. So if you’re dealing with a hockey novice, Billeter says, it’s important to grow the love of the game before trying to get that person to join a league.
“There are all kinds of different ways,” Billeter says. “But with adults that don’t know much about it, it usually takes going to an event like an NHL game or having a friend say, ‘You’ve got to come try this.’”
It’s also a good idea to make sure new players are comfortable on the ice. Billeter offers adult learn-to-play classes twice a year. His spring class usually fills right up, and he had near-full attendance at the summer session this year. From there, interested new players can get their skates wet, so to speak.
“We have a program called World League, which is a drop-in hockey league where there are no referees and you skate with the same guys every week,” he says. “Eventually they’re like, ‘OK, I want to play on a team now.’”
Offering novice clinics and comfortably integrating new players into the mix is a key component of attracting new members. It’s important to make sure the newbies feel ready to join a league with their skill level. Nobody wants to be that person who holds back their team or doesn’t contribute. Finding the right league is essential in retention.
That said, one of the biggest challenges in adding new players is getting them onto the teams they want to be on with their friends. New players need to understand that even if their friends get them out to play, they might have to work up to being on the same level.
Sometimes you can pair up friends and sometimes it’s just not doable. You have to be fair to all players and teams that have registered. Even beginner leagues have different levels of play—and some players might not be cut out to play with their friends just yet.
Just getting started, though, is the most important part. With the 2014 Winter Olympics just around the corner, hockey fever is already ramping up. Billeter says he expects a spike in adult registrations, which have been growing already to the point that a summer league was recently added in Salt Lake County.
In other words, now is the perfect time to convince a friend to take the plunge.
“I definitely keep seeing new players and they keep coming in, especially at the adult levels,” Billeter says.