Youth Ice Hockey Becomes More Welcoming

“Hockey has become more diversified because society itself has become more diversified,” says Larry Ruiming Du, 12.

The face of ice hockey is changing, and it’s not because of better mouthguards. 

Hockey has long been thought of as a sport for White males. According to Zippia, a website for job seekers, 72% of hockey players today are White. More than 90% are male. 

But the numbers are changing. To enable more kids from diverse backgrounds to try out the sport of hockey, the National Hockey League (NHL) has created a ‘Learn to Play’ program for children ages 4 to 9. The program varies from hockey club to hockey club, but players are typically offered 4 to 8 weeks of lessons. Some programs even include equipment that is free or at an affordable price. 

The sport’s increasing diversity is evident at the Rockville Ice Arena, located just outside of Washington, D.C. The Maryland arena, which is home to the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association’s Ice Devils, welcomes kids from all over. One can walk into the lobby and hear people speaking several languages, including Chinese, Farsi, and Spanish.

“Hockey has done a complete 180 and for the better,” said Marc Bragin, a 12-under travel team coach. “Just walking into the rink you see so many different faces, so many different ethnicities, and you hear multiple languages being spoken. The best part is that we’re all drawn to the same awesome sport, and we’re all family. The rink is our oasis.” 

Larry Ruiming Du said that he likes playing for the Ice Devils. The 12-year-old, whose parents are from China, pointed out that the team is more diverse than his previous one. Larry’s teammates have parents and grandparents who are from Latvia, China, Colombia, India, Iran, and Sri Lanka. 

“Hockey has become more diversified because society itself has become more diversified,” Larry said. “When people of other ethnicities lace up their skates, they fall in love with the sport.”

Larry, who speaks Mandarin Chinese at home, has not always felt welcome on the ice. “In the other club I played for,” he said, “it was mostly White kids, and I felt left out.” Now, he plays with kids from many different backgrounds.

Bragin confirmed Larry’s experience. “As the sport became more popular,” he said, “more and more people of all races, religion, and ethnicity started playing. Rinks have been popping up all over the place, and the NHL has done a fantastic job promoting the sport at the youth level.” 


An increasing number of girls are playing ice hockey. 


The number of girls playing ice hockey is also growing. Adrianna Hernandez said that she finds the sport welcoming to girls and people of color on the youth level. “I’ve never felt that I didn’t belong,” said the 13-year-old, whose father is from Colombia. 

Adrianna is one of four Latina players on her all girls’ team. “I started to like ice hockey when my grandmother took me to the Washington Capitals [NHL] games,” she said. “My parents signed me up for the ‘Learn to Play’ program. From there, I never looked back. Hockey is the best sport in the world.”



Top photo courtesy of the author; bottom photo: © Hero Images / Getty Images