I’m In

The fast lane to starting something new often feels much more like the slow lane.

What would you do if you recently moved into a new area only to find, to your surprise and disappointment, no youth hockey league for your children?  Here’s what you probably wouldn’t do: start a youth 
hockey league.  Not yet anyway…doing so would be exhausting, frustrating, and expensive.

Hockey – particularly ice hockey – is a sport that requires a lot of commitment, both in terms of money and time.  The equipment can be expensive, and so is the ice time.  Rinks generally aren’t around the corner like most baseball fields, and games and practices are often held at very odd hours.  Even just getting suited up takes a bit of time…certainly not as simple as putting on a pair of cleats and a glove.  Oh, and of course, you’ve got that whole learning to skate thing.  Suffice it to say, the hurdles for kids to really pursue the game – and experience the sensation of sharp blades cutting through the ice, the satisfaction of a well executed passing sequence, and the thrill of watching the back of the net flex in submission to the puck – are high.

So, instead of starting a league straight away, you might start simply by playing hockey with your children in the street, on the driveway, or in a local park.  As others saw you together, interest among some would be stirred.  You might also bring up hockey in conversation with other parents at your kids’ soccer games.  Your kids could talk to their friends and classmates about hockey…maybe invite some over to watch some games on TV.  Perhaps, before long hopefully, enough interest would surface for some to pick up a stick and join you on the driveway.  Soon, somebody will pick up some goalie equipment…maybe somebody else another net.  After a while, there might be enough kids for some informal games at the park.  From there…

Here’s the point: most people don’t make significant changes all at once.  When you start something new, you are asking people to change behavior.  And the more substantial the shift you seek, the harder it will be for people to adopt that new behavior.  So, to increase the likelihood of success, you need to make it easy for people to experience a taste of the change.  I call this lowering the barriers to trial.  If you do that, and provided people find the change – whether a product, a service, or an idea – worthwhile, you will be well on your way to successfully realizing your mission.

Lately, I’m getting to see these ideas in action in my neck of the woods – Bergen County, NJ – with regard to (surprise, surprise) youth hockey.  Now, Bergen County is not devoid of hockey as you might expect from having read above.  However, having played a bit of hockey as a kid, I am well acquainted with the commitment it requires.  So, when my young son told me he wanted to play ice hockey, I turned to two organizations that are doing a great job collectively at keeping the doors open for kids: Doug Brown Hockey Development Program and Pre-Game Pro Shop in Westwood, NJ.  Here’s what they are doing:

Doug Brown, mastering a fine balance of encouragement and drive, teaches weekly sessions to kids (and adults actually) in which the first half hour focuses on skill development and the second half hour is game play.  In this way, the kids can give hockey a try – finding out their interest and aptitude – without committing to a team and the associated expense and scheduling demands.  Of course, even with Doug’s great program, full ice hockey equipment is required for all players.  This is where Pre-Game Pro Shop comes in.  They buy and sell lightly used (and new) hockey equipment, specializing in youth.  So, rather than spending several hundred dollars before your child ever steps on the ice, Pre-Game cuts the investment by half to two-thirds.  Of course, because kids grow through equipment so quickly, Pre-Game saves parents a lot of money every year their children play.

So, here are some things to consider if you want to expose people to some sort of change…perhaps a product, a service, an idea.  What can you do to help them experience it in a small, low-investment way?  How can you give them just a taste?  The bigger the bite you require, the fewer people will try.

Most people don’t make changes based on imagination; they make them based on experience.