I have been wanting to share my points of view on this for awhile and finally got the time to write this article. Of course it is just my opinion and perception, so take it or leave it as you see fit. I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts as well after you have read my article, but please keep it civil and respectful. Just as my point of view might not be the right fit for you, your point of view may not be the right fit for others as well…….
When I grew up in Ontario I started out playing ringette. I am not even sure if there was hockey for females in my area when I first started out playing ice sports. I sure loved hockey though and some of my favorite memories are of watching games on Hockey Night in Canada with my Mom. My Dad, well he hated hockey and equated watching a game to torture.
So it was Mom and me yelling, cheering, and just down right enjoying hockey on Saturday nights.
It wasn’t until I was older that I started playing hockey. I even got to play on a university team. I did not go to the university that I played for, but they asked me to play on the team as they could apparently have a certain number of players that were not going to the school, playing on the team.
Now, my daughter is playing hockey and has been for 5 years so far. She started the first year she was allowed to play based on age, which locally is 5 years old. She actually started ringette at 4 and played for two seasons, but her love of hockey quickly had her asking to drop the ringette.
So I have seen decades of hockey and lived it as a player, mom, and manager, and all those experiences have formed a lot of my views on what is wrong with girls’ hockey, at least locally.
What I see are so many parents living their hockey dreams through their kids. I am always hearing about Team Canada, the Olympics, and scholarships and it is coming from the parents’ mouths. I had a 5-year old tell me one time that they wanted to be on Team Canada and go to the Olympics. At the time, I wondered if the 5-year-old even knew the true meaning of what she was saying.
We are really lucky as we are getting more and more qualified female coaches in girls’ hockey, but that just does not seem to matter to many parents. A lot of the parents, namely dads, put weight on a male coach that is a “good” player, or that “almost” made it to the NHL, over a highly qualified female coach that either has more experience coaching or that played a high level of female hockey. That blows my mind away.
Why does this happen? My perception is that the dads who are generally in charge of their daughter’s hockey “career” hold more respect for a “could have maybe been” male coach than an accomplished and successful female coach.
I have witnessed programs that have highly experienced female coaches struggle to get participants, while male run programs that are run basically by beer league players get filled up.
I have witnessed dads that have only beer league level playing beat out more qualified female coaches for head coaching positions on female hockey recreational league teams.
I have seen highly qualified female coaches not get credit for the successes of the hockey team that they are the head coach of and the credit being given to the male assistant coaches by the dads. A sort of she did it because of who she had helping her type of attitude.
I have seen male coaches coaching girls like they are boys and guess what, they are not. Girls are generally not as aggressive. They probably have not spent hours and hours stick handling and shooting when off the ice. They generally do not pass as well and do not shoot as well as their counterparts. They are generally not as strong as their male counterparts, especially as they get older. They are usually there because they love the sport, but also love the friendships. They generally listen a lot better than their male counterparts during practices and tend to have way better hockey sense so they play a strategic, thinking game.
I witnessed one “high level” male coach come help at a girls’ hockey practice one day and two of the girls had to go to the bench for their inhalers as they have asthma. The male coach was yelling and basically losing his cool which freaked the girls out. Let me just say something here…..if a female player is not listening or has separated to go to the bench, I can pretty much guarantee that 99% of the time it is for a darn good reason, like an injury, inhaler, hair band that has fallen over their eyes and they cannot see….yep I have seen that many times.
The female coach on the ice knew when she saw the player go to the bench what was going on and to have someone check in with the player, as she knew her players do not just wander off. The male coach, well he apparently is used to the boys not always listening and off doing their own thing so he went into his coaching boys’ hockey mode.
After that experience, with the entire team seeing this male coach’s performance, they all were talking about the mean, male coach and asking what is wrong with him.
I have also seen male coaches attempt to teach girls things NHL’ers do and that are penalties in minor hockey, especially at the younger ages. Geez, I wonder why she keeps getting penalties!
Girls are different than boys and their sports, although maybe the same sport, they are very different. You may be able to move a boy around and back and forth in positions all game long from any age onward, but girls, they do not react well to this from what I have seen. They take it personally. They interpret a move in their position as a statement on their ability and performance. They take it to heart and it can cause tears.
An important thing to remember for kids at a younger age is that success and performance are equal to their effort in a young player’s mind. So the fact that they skated their butt off and were trying their best all game means to them that they rocked as a player. They may not have touched the puck once all game, but their interpretation is they did amazing. You know what, if they are having fun, then they did do amazing.
I have had multiple female players, that did not touch the puck once all game, tell me after a game how they were the reason the team did so well. Why do they wholeheartedly believe that they were the key element to the success of the team? Because they played with the most effort that they could harness. Effort = Performance/Success
Coaches need to understand, especially for young female athletes, that effort = performance. Female players tend to not have that urgency to get the puck and win until later years. I have had girls’ teams come off the ice after losing 25 to 7 or even worse (no score ever posted) and asking me if they won. Girls tend to not know the score at younger ages. Their effort = a great performance and in turn they interpret a close game in their minds despite the 25 to 7 score.
We need to let our girls play hockey the way they love. So few make it to Team Canada and the chances are greater that your kid will not make it. So let them have fun. Let them play their game. It is okay for the female player to stop and ask the player on the other team that fell if she is okay, instead of ignoring her and rushing to the puck on the other side of the fallen player. Just let them play.
Let qualified female coaches coach. Give them the recognition they deserve. Stop letting male “could have maybe been” coaches and beer league coaches coach our girls’ teams over a qualified female coach.
Personally, I would want a qualified female coach for my daughter over a male coach. I want my daughter coached like a girl, with the relevant goals in mind, maintaining a fun environment, and having an amazing role model they can relate to.
What I challenge you to do is ask your female player who they want as a coach. Give them the experience of a qualified female role model and see how they flourish.
I also would love to see girls playing in girl’s hockey leagues, not in boy’s hockey leagues. From what I have seen, the girls playing in boy’s leagues are not getting better coaching or becoming better players by playing with the boys. The girls also have to come back to girl’s hockey around the Atom and probably for sure at the PeeWee age when the boys get a lot bigger than their counterpart female players.
Our girl’s hockey team has played boy’s teams each year and we usually beat the boy’s teams at the same ages in the younger years. The boys come out all cocky and with attitudes that boys are better than girls at hockey and usually leave the game crying about their loss to a girl’s team.
I have seen summer leagues where girl’s teams have to play all boy’s teams and the season ends with the girl’s team wearing the gold medals around their neck.
So let your girls play female hockey. Let them make friends and have camaraderie in the change room instead of changing alone. You will probably find that girls play pretty smart hockey and have a ton of fun doing so.
I also challenge parents to let their child’s hockey experience be their own. Let them discover what they want from hockey and how much they want to put into hockey.
I have seen some parents put their player in so much hockey that I have witnessed good players start to actually deteriorate and fall in skill level and confidence. They were frustrated and burnt out which affected their level of play and that in turn stressed the parents which made them put their player in even more training. So the vicious circle kept going.
Giving your player time off from their sport is awesome. It allows them to discover other sports and passion for being active. It also makes them miss hockey and look forward to the start of the season and seeing their hockey friends again.
Why does my daughter play hockey?
Because she asked to.
Because it teaches her how to be a part of a team.
Because it teaches her to listen and learn.
Because it teaches her respect for herself, her teammates, and her coaches.
Because it builds her confidence.
Because it teaches her how to win with grace.
Because it teaches her how to lose with grace.
Because it teaches her resilience.
Because it teaches her mental toughness.
Because it teaches her to work hard.
Because it teaches her that others depend on her as part of a team.
Because she has fun doing it.
Because it keeps her active.
Because it keeps her with like minded active kids.
Because it keeps her busy and hopefully yes, out of trouble.
I am trying to encourage not only life lessons and skills with my daughter’s participation in hockey, but I am hoping she continues to love the sport through her teenage years and into her adults years. I hope it keeps her active for life. I hope that at 16 she is in a rink with her friends for a hockey game instead of out who knows where doing who knows what. I hope that at 50 she is still playing in a beer league somewhere, making friends and time for herself.
My daughter has had some spectacular hockey seasons and been ranked among the top players, to some okay hockey seasons and being the middle of the pack. It seems to depend on her growth spurts. A growing spurt happens and then that well-controlled hockey body all the sudden is gangly and trips here and there. Then she gets used to her new height and center of gravity and that controlled player shows up again. What I love through all these moments is that I see smiles, laughter, and a kid having fun.
What I would love to see is the stress come off our girls’ shoulders. Develop and challenge our girls, but let them play. Let them have fun. Let them discover what hockey is and will be for themselves. Let them be coached by the qualified pool of female coaches that will coach them like girls and be a wonderful role model for them. If there is not a big enough pool of female coaches, minor hockey associations need to work at growing their pool of female coaches.
Let the girls play hockey and play it like a girl. After all, girls rock just the way they are and they are great at sports, including the good old hockey game.
So let them #PlayLikeAGirl.
I know that is what my parents did for me and I love them for it.