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James E. Curtis and Jack S. Birch

A conventional wisdom in the lay sociology of sport journalism is that North American professional ice hockey players are disproportionately recruited from smaller communities and rural areas. One explanation given for this is that avenues for social mobility are more limited in such communities and that sport is heavily pursued as one of the few areas of opportunity. Sections of the sociological literature would suggest, though, that the opposite relationship may occur because larger cities have better opportunity structures for developing and expressing sport skills. These alternative expectations are tested for Canadian-born players in three professional leagues and for players on the last three Olympic teams. In addition, data for U.S. Olympic teams are presented. In interpreting the results, we also employ Canadian national survey data on mass participation of male youths in hockey. The findings show that the largest cities are underrepresented as birthplaces of players at each elite level, whereas small towns are overrepresented. Yet, community size does not appear related to the general population of male youths’ rate of participation in hockey. Emphasized are interpretations concerning how amateur hockey is organized.