In San Francisco, the Sea Lions Underwater Hockey Club has been around for about 14 years but has mainly been focused on adult participation and has not really provided a focused program for children. In 2008, the club began to work with the City to create an introductory program that would introduce the sport to the younger generation and that would, in turn, keep the sport moving forward and help to develop players for the future. It was a great way for players that were parents to engage their children and begin to extend underwater hockey into the realm of a family activity. It was also a great way to create a pipeline of future players. The program began with goals that were focused on increasing the membership to the club, introducing children into the programs regardless of their swimming capabilities and provide leadership and role models to children in priority neighbourhoods in San Francisco.
With the help of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, the club’s efforts were supported and the program which took about six months to be initiated, now has about 40 members ranging in age from about 5 to 18. Coaching is supported by about five adult players and the schedule runs once weekly throughout the full year with no seasonal hiatus. Tournament play for this age range has already begun with the introduction of a one or two day event that is held in May for competitive play and has drawn other players from regions such as Calgary. In 2014, the event will be in its sixth year.
More cities should look at creating something of this nature as the benefits to the children playing and the sport itself are enormous. It is not an easy task with the low profile of underwater hockey but if you can find the right champions in your locale, it’s definitely possible. To begin the program, the supporters put in a great deal of preparation, creating a detail syllabus of the planned activities that went to the City for approval. The coaches registered as volunteers in order to reduce the cost of running the classes and the Parks and Rec Department ran standard background checks on all volunteers and they were then required to become certified as Water Safety Instructors by the Red Cross. The City provided the startup funding needed to purchase the necessary gear and subsequently, the Club fundraised the costs for additional gear.
There are numerous other details that need to be considered in developing the program and with the help of your local municipal administration in Parks and Rec in well as in programs that support children in priority neighbourhoods along with the established players in the area, this is a worthwhile time investment for the sport of underwater hockey. The San Francisco program has now been running for almost six years with the immeasurable reward of making about 30 kids happy every single week while they become fit, disciplined and focused on concrete goals. It provides a bonus for coaches as well. The time that they invest is giving back to the community and the sport, enabling them to improve the rate of success for some of these kids and providing the coaches with an overall sense of well being and pride, which reduces their own stress levels. The City itself benefits from producing viable successful youth and of course, underwater hockey is the biggest benefactor by creating a pipeline of future players and ensuring the continuance of the sport.