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“The majority of families were excited and itching to get back on the ice and back playing hockey.”
I’m sure this statement by Eric Bernal, President of Richmond Jets MHA, comes as no shock to anyone. Hockey is life in Canada and that is very much the case for the Richmond Jets, who are based in Richmond, BC and have around 1,000 members during a typical season.
Eric has volunteered with the organization for eight years now, starting as a team manager and working his way up to President. He had seen it all, or so he thought.
A big unknown for everyone
As the growing worry of COVID-19 took the world by storm, sports began shutting down. It had a huge impact on the Richmond Jets and its members, with all ice rinks and community services closing down in Richmond, BC and the Lower Mainland.
“We didn’t know when things were going to open up again and that was a big unknown for everyone.” – Eric Bernal
The first thing that happened was that all of the hockey associations within the governing association, Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association (PCAHA), got together and started having weekly Zoom meetings. “We realized quickly that every city was going to be different in terms of their return to play plan so we just wanted to collaborate, keep up to date and work together with our provincial body, BC Hockey, to come up with the return to play for hockey,” says Eric.
This gave the Richmond Jets and other hockey associations an opportunity to collectively put together a return to play template that they could all use.
The impacts of COVID
At the end of the day, everyone just really missed hockey. Kids were missing being on the ice. “The kids were stuck at home almost all year long and that has an impact from a mental health perspective. Sport is one of those things that is important in keeping kids active and doing something that they love,” says Eric.
For the organization itself, the biggest challenges were all of the unknowns and variables. They knew that any future season was going to have to look different.
Returning to play
In collaboration with the other local hockey associations, the Richmond Jets put together a return to play plan, which included the new protocols to follow and an outline of the process in case of an outbreak. Essentially, this comprehensive document laid out all of the new procedures for the environment that the organization was now in and once they had that ready, they submitted it to the city who needed to approve the plan, along with the Richmond Jets Board of Directors.
The next step was figuring out if there was interest from members. Without knowing that, it was difficult to come up with a budget. “One of our biggest concerns was trying to get a sense of what our budget was going to be this year because we didn’t know what registration was going to be like. Were we going to get a grant from the government? We didn’t know. So there were a lot of unknowns around our budget,” says Eric. In the end, the Richmond Jets used registration to gauge interest and have seen their numbers reach about 80% of what they typically would, which is pretty good considering the circumstances.
The city finally started opening up rinks in August and the organization decided to start with older kids, as it would reduce the need for spectators and parents. One thing was certain: Eric wanted to make things as safe as possible. This included making masks mandatory inside rinks, at least until you get a helmet on. They also wanted to make sure they ran screenings before each event and had a way to run contact tracing, which Eric was thrilled to be able to use TeamSnap Health Check to do.
“The timing of when Health Check came out was perfect. It was ready right around the time when we were just going to head back to the ice.” -Eric Bernal
The Richmond Jets took a gradual approach and introduced a new division back each week. On top of that, they’ve been playing in smaller cohort groups, so it’s not quite a typical season. But still, everyone is very excited to get back on the ice.
Advice for other organizers
For Eric, returning to play takes serious planning and thought. “My main suggestion is to not rush back. Don’t feel like you have to rush back. Take your time to make sure that everything is well thought out.”
He mentioned that there are no enemies and everyone is in this together, so work with your cities, local ice rinks, governing bodies, fellow organizations and even your members.
And of course, communication is key. Make sure members know what is happening, what the protocols are, and how the season will look different. “Remind parents to be patient because a lot of these organizations are run by volunteers and there’s definitely an added amount of stress and pressure added on volunteers this season. So it’s important for parents and members to realize to be patient and understanding and that everyone’s in it to help their kids out,” says Eric.
Anand Patel is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at TeamSnap. He gets to soak up the beautiful Southern California sun every day and make his coworkers very, very jealous.