The idea that the most important thing in kids’ sports is to have fun is frequently just that – an idea. In practice, competitiveness will often win the day and in turn a lot of kids get pushed out or quit, regardless of the sport in question.

For two seasons now, Westmount’s Roslyn elementary has been running a hockey program that has stayed true to that original concept, however.

The kids of the Roslyn School hockey program (Photo courtest Mark Solakski)

“Our philosophy remains to provide a non-competitive, instructional and highly-enjoyable setting in which any interested student can learn a bit more about some of the fundamental skills of the game of hockey at the same time build potentially lasting relationships with their peers that they see in their classrooms every day at Roslyn,” said physical education teacher Mark Sokalski, who runs the program.

“Our program is not about winning. It’s about getting as many kids to participate as possible, build a core group of young players, and creating a sense of pride and sportsmanship for Roslyn School. Understandably, there is definitely a sense of competitiveness within our players when we play in tournaments or during exhibition games, but the ultimate end is to have fun.”

Getting a hockey program running at any school can be difficult – starting one at an elementary school took some creative thinking.

“There were issues concerning the safety of the players getting to and from the rink during school time and ultimately the cost. Once there was a buzz around school that a team might be in the works, Brendan Kelly, whose daughter, Devon, would eventually participate contacted the city and got us some time start-up at the arena,” Sokalski explained.

“The problem was the only available time was on Fridays between 2 and 3:30 p.m., so in order to play, our skaters would have to miss a good chunk of school.  In the end, our teachers and parents were very supportive of the positive benefits of this program for the kids and we were on our way.

After we used up our free hours, we booked more ice time every Friday through to the end of February and even played a few exhibition games against some other schools.”

The program is offered to most of the school population.

“Any Roslyn student, boy or girl, in Grades 4, 5 or 6 is welcome, and we’ll accept Grade 3 students as well if we feel they can to keep pace with the older players. This being our second year, we saw 27 players sign up – three being girls,” Sokalski said.

Keane Kelly-Menard, 9, is a centre and plays both with his classmates at Roslyn and inter-city with Westmount.

“I like playing on the Roslyn team because it’s fun to play with my friends from school. I also get to play different teams than the teams I normally play with my Westmount team,” he said.

Giving kids just that opportunity is exactly what Sokalski and his colleagues are going for.

“Our first priority as teachers is to educate the student and show them how to be gracious in victory or defeat, and what it means to work to achieve success. We hope that through the positive environment we provide we will see our players grow as individuals, caring, tolerant and fair,” he said.

“So far, as our second season is ending and the enthusiasm shown by our players and parents has been encouraging. The kids just love to play hockey.”

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