The Rink Experience
A recurring conversation I've found myself in with other hockey parents over the past decade while at the rink revolves around ideas like, "if I owned the building" or "if it were my team I'd do this..."
All any of us need to make it happen is, well, a powerball jackpot, really...and even then, I'm not sure investing in a rink would be a solid financial move with zero experience.
But seriously, I do think there are failures in hockey programs and ice rink facilities that would be really easy to solve...if more of the folks running these things were a little bit more in touch with the business and customer side of things and a little less "fully engulfed" in the hockey (or figure skating) side of things.
Both are equally important.
Even at the professional level, I only think I've encountered one single situation where they were even in the same time zone.
First, from a building perspective -- it needs to be understood that, in youth hockey, the parent experience should always be a good one.
You can't change your location.
You can't change the number of ice surfaces you have.
Big ticket items are a no-go...but there are a number of moderately inexpensive features that can be offered to reel in parents, err, players.
I've said before that I won't play for a program that plays in a rink that doesn't offer LiveBarn. Little thing, sure, but it's a dealbreaker for me.
Rinks that refuse to offer LiveBarn -- or, worse, have it shut off -- are a huge turn off for me.
As a parent of three players, I can't physically be in 3 places at once but I'd like having the ability to watch all 3 places.
Maybe that's just me, though...
Here's the list of things I've put together from all of these lobby conversations that ice skating facilities, across the board, can improve on.
Rinks need better wifi.
Wide open, fast, no login required, open network, wifi.
Mulitple connection options, if necessary...with cool names -- figure skater and hockey player names only.
Don't be pedestrian and name the networks "Arena-Guest". At the very least, you should hve a wifi connection for every surface in the facility named something "Wayne-Gretzky", "Hayley-Wickenheiser", or "Tara-Lipinski".
Renaming your network requires roughly 4 seconds worth of work...but people WILL notice. And smile.
Look, the amount of time required to develop a highly skilled hockey player (or figure skater) is off the charts. The whole covid thing has mobilized the workforce -- with a solid wifi connection, many parents can work from the rink.
Pre-pandemic, the thought of offering 3:00pm skills clinics was unheard of. Home schooled figure skaters were the only ones that could pull that off.
So many of us parents are still "working from home" which actually means we're just working remotely...permanantly. We can work from anywhere...provided there's a solid wifi connection.
This is a revenue stream that, three years ago, did not exist. Take advantage of that!
Further, the more folks posting on social media from your building...the more your programs will grow.
It's free, organic growth, advertising. And it costs way less per month than the going hourly rate for a sheet of ice.
No brainer -- upgrade your wifi...and open it to the public.
Now, I've made it one of my life goals to never, ever, EVER use the bathroom at a rink unless it's a dire emergency...and even then, I'm more apt to attempt to make it home.
But I've also had infants in tow for a number of years so, ugh...boy, have I ever had some rink bathroom, um...experiences.
So, first, clean bathrooms are a must.
Stall doors are a must.
Running water is a must.
A changing table in the mens room, seldom seen, is also a must.
You know what's not a must? Shower stalls.
I know, gross, right?
But here's the thing -- more people use the shower stalls as urinals than for showers...and that's because the bathrooms are so disgusting that peeing in the shower stalls instead feels...cleaner.
That's a fact. That's why the locker rooms smell like they do.
Get rid of the shower stalls. Replace them with sinks and stalls and, boom, suddenly you have enough bathrooms to support the building.
And they don't need to be spotless -- I get it, staffing is tough -- but, for real, a squirt down with bleach each night would do wonders...and bleach is cheap.
And while we're on the subject of bathrooms -- plan them out. Think about the layout. Don't just go cookie cutter municipal building style.
Know your clientele. I mean, you can pretend you're an NHL training facility if you like but, realistically, the people utilizing your building are folks with young children...many of which have knives on their feet.
Bathrooms must be accessible in skates.
For the boys, install more than the one token lowered urinal.
For the girls, install double the number of stalls the original design suggests.
Ask a group of parents what they hate most about certain rinks and if it's not the bathrooms that are at the top of the list, it's the temperature.
Every rink I've ever been to has heaters.
You can see them...but they're almost never turned on.
Now, I get it...an ice rink is something where the temperature matters and, yes, heating any room that large is expensive.
Keep the heaters off during the day. Keep them off during the week, even. Practice nights can been freezing, fine.
But weekend mornings...the heaters should be on.
The people sitting in the stands should not feel like they're sitting outside...in February. Legit -- there's always that one parent that looks like they're going snowmobiling immediately after the game...except they're not.
Sure, you see parents walking around now with their heated jackets but, seriously, think about why so many parents have little lit up logos on their chests?
It's cause it's too damned cold in the rinks?!
Parent comfort matters -- we're a captive audience -- and I know for a fact, there are families that stay in programs because they play out of warm buildings.
It's a factor.
I feel like this disappeared during the pandemic over the social distancing guidelines...and never returned.
If your building has a lobby area or any wide open space...put some benches in there... Give your patrons a place to sit -- ideally where it's not freezing.
Groups of parents standing around with no where to go in high traffic areas is a bottleneck to the functionality of your entire building.
And if the new found justification, from the facility perspective, for not bringing seating back is due to the fact that so many parents are sitting in their cars while their kids are on ice, well, I'll go back and tell you the parent experience matters.
Sitting in the car by yourself scrolling on your phone is cool, relaxing even, for about 15 minutes.
For 3+ hours every weeknight...not so much.
You want parents in the building.
You might not think you do...but you do.
Supervision purposes, alone, make it worth it.
Plus, it's the social aspect of it all -- make the rink the pleasureable experience and business will thrive.
No one wants to stand around in a meat locker.
But sitting in a comfortable spot surrounded by friends, well, that's the complete opposite.
So many rinks with multiple ice surfaces fail at this. Logistics, man...
If you have two ice surfaces, why are they both on the same schedule? Think about it... For hockey, that's four teams coming and going at exactly the same time.
Parking issues, lobby crowd issues, locker room availability issues.
It's just...poorly thought out.
You created this mess!
If you have two surfaces, stagger by 30 minutes. If you have three, stagger by 20 minutes. Four ice surfaces? Stagger them by 15 minutes.
Having had a peek behind the scheduling curtains at a number of rinks over the past two decades, one of the main stumbling blocks, err, excuses has been lining up the 60 minute and 90 minute ice slots. C'mon...get real.
Alternate them. Spend a hour making a chart and you can factor in ice cuts even if you only have one ice resurfacer. It's not rocket science.
And it solves so many logistical issues that I see occur every single weekend...you know, like 40 player equipment bags clogging up the lobby because a locker room isn't available.
Of the 133 rinks my kids have skated in, so far, I can only think of maybe a dozen that are very clearly doing this right.
Now... from a program perspective...
Communication and consistancy is everything.
Some programs are totally transparent about everything and that's great but I know that's not always ideal or even practical...
But communication is huge.
Announce your coaches for the following season as soon as you have them lined up. Eliminate all of the hearsay.
False rumors and grossly embellished stories from bitter families can tear programs apart.
Be open and honest about the leagues you're competing in. I get that it's dependent on the talent pool...but say that!
Don't just promise the moon and then backtrack.
I've been in the game long enough to understand how it all works -- and why -- but I also empathize with less experienced hockey parents who continually feel like bait and switches are occuring.
They're not...but I can totally understand how some could see it that way.
Better communication, all around, would de-escalate so many of these issues that run rampant.
"Zamboni 1 is down and that high school game started late -- that's why practice is cancelled."
Things happen. That one always angry mom will still stamp her feet, there's no winning there...but most people will be understanding.
Just tell the truth...and rumors are a thing of the past.
On the consistency side of things, that's in regard to scheduling.
During our initial foray into youth hockey, practices days and times varied from week to week...and specifics were provided the week prior.
It created a situation where it was impossible to plan anything outside of hockey and, yes, I get it.
I'm fully on board with the "We can't, we have hockey" crowd.
But not knowing if it was a Tuesday/Thursday week or a Monday/Wednesday week or a Wednesday/Thursday week until Sunday night was ludicrous.
By the start of September, teams should have their ice booked and be able to announce that practices are on these days at these times and any changes to that routine will be out of the ordinary...through February.
Dare I say it -- most programs should be able to announce that sort of thing in July. Your team will practice on Tuesdays and Fridays. Done. Announce it.
Again, not rocket science.
Weekends are the wild west and that's fine -- weekdays, though, need more structure cause, well, parents have jobs and kids have school.
And isn't USA Hockey constantly promoting participating in other sports? Kinda tough to do when you literally have NO IDEA what nights you'll have open to participate in those other activities.
And that brings me to the month of March. Tryout season.
Where we live, it's very apparent that teams purposefully stack their tryouts on top of one another so as to make it more difficult to explore your options.
I find that gross -- especially when all of the teams start making last minute changes to their tryout nights and times to further quell anyone considering trying out for two different teams.
If I ran a program, you know what I'd do?
I'd announce my dates and times first.
Beat every other team in the region...and then stick to that schedule and let them work around what I'd set.
And then, as they'd overlap my dates, I'd add two more nights after everyone else has announced to be on less crowded dates and times...
And then sit back and watch the other programs scramble to keep up.
You don't want to go last cause, by then, people have signed...but you also want to give people a reason NOT to sign elsewhere immediately.
Easy peasy to be in full control while chaos surrounds you.
I could keep going...but the kids have ice in 45 minutes...
» Tiers In Youth Hockey Explained. Well, sort of...
» Hockey Salad Days
» Let's talk about Hockey Skate Laces
» The 'Dreaded' Car Ride Home after Hockey
» Dissatisfied with Practice?
» Is Sportsmanship in Youth Hockey still a thing?
» What does it mean to be coachable? And why it's so important.
» Product Review: Sparx Skate Sharperner
Agree? Disagree? Let me know -- I love the feedback from all angles!