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A new initiative is being rolled out in Nova Scotia to try and get more kids from diverse backgrounds to start playing hockey.
It's called Future of Hockey Lab and was co-founded by Carolyn Townsend, formerly of Sport Nova Scotia, and Hockey Nova Scotia executive director Amy Walsh.
"The COVID pandemic has forced us to work in ways that we never thought were possible," said Walsh. "It showed us that we can change and adapt to things differently."
Hockey in Nova Scotia will be the testing ground for the Future of Hockey Lab over the next three to five years. Using Volta, an "innovation hub" based in Halifax that support startups and entrepreneurs, the lab will focus on identifying new approaches and test ideas to increase diversity.
Cost, scheduling and sense of belonging
Hockey Nova Scotia has already done some work over the last couple of years to try and become more inclusive, but getting new kids out to play the game that are Indigenous, Black or from other ethnic backgrounds has proved to be a challenge.
"These social innovation labs are now happening all around the world, and to my knowledge this is the first that is really focused on hockey and dealing with the impediments to the game," said Dean Smith, chair of Hockey Nova Scotia's diversity and inclusion committee.
"The No. 1 impediment to the game is cost, No. 2 was scheduling and time commitment for families, and the third was a sense of belonging."
Hockey accessible to 'select few'
That sense of belonging is where the lab hopes to make a big impact.
Smith recently led a task force on hockey diversity that spoke to 800 Nova Scotians to get their input. New policies are expected to be drawn up that will try and draw out more players from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
"We know the sport of hockey is truly loved by many, but it's really only accessible to a select few and that select few is getting smaller and smaller," said Walsh. "So this is really about testing ideas and new innovations that might make the game more accessible to all people."
The Future of Hockey Lab has a board of mentors composed of diverse leaders from different sports organizations.
Among the groups with which the lab will be partnering are the sports funding charity Jumpstart, Scotiabank, hockey equipment maker Bauer and Hockey Canada.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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