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Abuse in hockey: Speak up for yourself and others

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*This is a story shared by a member of the women’s hockey community who wishes to remain anonymous.

Abuse in hockey is a hot topic right now because it can hit anyone at any age and level. Right now the spotlight is majorly on junior hockey and above—all the way up to the NHL. I want to open this up to the girls and women in hockey who may have been silenced or who may be overlooked because they’re not as widely covered in the media. 

I want to share my story of abuse in the hopes that it can help someone feel less alone, and even encourage them to speak up and tell someone about their experience. Don’t be afraid to speak up, as you have more people on your side than you believe. Anonymity is important to me as I’m still playing the game, but I want my story to be heard in the hopes that it can help others in the women’s hockey community.

MY STORY

I moved abroad as a teenager to play hockey. I was away from my family and everything I ever knew—everything was new to me. When I got there, I immediately felt pressured into switching from a billet family to a “team house”, which we later discovered may have been against billeting rules. There was up to 12 of us, including the female coach living in a four bedroom house. It was a decent sized house, but too small for the number of us.

Simple things like not being allowed to study in our rooms and being forced into “team bonding” activities when we’d specifically asked for study time started happening. It seemed like nothing major but it got to the point that we had no alone time and no study time. 

Things went on and it started to feel like the coach and some players were forming a clique. It started showing on and off the ice. Rumours began spreading regarding the boys team that was connected with the girls team. Rather than shutting it down, the coach added fuel by encouraging it and taking part in girly sessions.

I was one of the players who had rumours spread about her. People I considered to be my friends even started believing them because they were coming from the coach, too.

I found the switch of schooling systems pretty difficult as I hadn’t done a lot of what we were building on. I was one of the only ones who attended the actual school instead of the academy classroom (for visa reasons), so I took advantage of all the one on one time I could get in the academy classroom. I did this when I needed it, which was quite often because I felt behind.

One day, the coach stormed in and announced to everyone in the class—my  classmates and the classroom staff—that I wasn’t allowed any help and if I asked anyone they were to ignore me and not to talk to me while I was in the classroom. So, while everyone was working in groups or pairs I was left alone in a corner.

I started struggling in one of my classes and my grades dropped below a C – the minimum grade to train and play hockey. I wasn’t allowed on the ice anymore. People questioned why I was at school instead of training and it put me in the awkward situation of either explaining why or trying to avoid people. 

I felt completely isolated at this point. Imagine moving abroad and knowing no one except your teammates who seemed to be slowly turning against you. It seemed as though nobody could trust anyone as everyone had their future at stake, and unfortunately it was in the hands of this coach.

I was lucky I had some people stick around me. One of my roommates and I ended up getting offered a place in a billet home, which we jumped at. It at least gave us some freedom and she was able to help me with my schoolwork as she was in the year above me.

The abuse continued, though. I took a puck to my hand in a game and ended up with a pretty bad cut. I wasn’t allowed to go to hospital even though it wouldn’t stop bleeding. It didn’t stop for three days straight. Once I was finally allowed to go (over a week later) I was told it would’ve needed stitches if I’d gone at the time. It had gotten infected and I was referred to a hand specialist, but staff wouldn’t take me anywhere alone. It was like the staff were scared of me, thinking I’d say something or accuse them of something. It hurt because I hadn’t done anything or said anything to make them feel like that, so I assumed it was coming from the coach.

Once I’d been cleared to play, we were supposed to be going on a long away trip. I was denied the chance to go – even though I was paying to go – due to “risk of infection”. I was told they don’t travel with injured players, although one of the boys travelled to the same location in a sling. When I asked him why he was able to go he told me it was because he wanted to. 

Most of my teammates had turned against me and the coach refused to play me. I played single digit shifts over a 30+ game season. I was made to video our home games. I remember we went on an away trip and I had to sit in the stands. The coach had been suspended for abuse of officials and chose to sit near me – imagine a helicopter parent just hovering about. During the stoppages and breaks I would go on my phone only to be yelled at by her that I wasn’t interested in being a part of the team, even though I travelled with the team, filled water bottles on demand and did everything I was told to do.

I was essentially paying five digit numbers to be an equipment manager. I could see the girls appreciate me when the coach wasn’t nearby, which made it worse because it’s like they didn’t believe her but didn’t want to be screwed about too.

There were away trips that I didn’t even take my gear on. There was one trip I’d been told I wouldn’t be playing on. I had a lot of schoolwork, so I asked if I could stay to go to school and get caught up but was told no. They won the tournament and I wasn’t even allowed on the ice for a team picture… or the bench for that fact. I had to watch from the stands. 

My one saving grace was that the boys team’s head coach noticed everything and, little did I know, he was making note of everything to make a report. I started noticing him watching our training sessions and most of the time if they were working on anything positional related or game related, I had to watch from the bench or sit on the boards. I often sat on the boards as it kept me from walking off the bench. 

One time we had to work in pairs and I had to go with the coach. We went down the ice in pairs passing to each other. I didn’t shout for a single pass because I didn’t feel driven to talk to her. When we got back she started going on about how we need to shout and communicate and then takes it further by singling me out and shouting “especially when you’re with the f****** coach”. Yeah fair enough… if everything else hadn’t happened. 

It became regular that she would skate us for tiny mistakes in drills – natural mistakes that will always happen at every level – and the boys team started a game where they’d watch our training and predict how many times we’d get skated and took it further by predicting it just before it happened. It was quite humorous that it was standing out that much. 

Another blessing is that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to move over to the team that really helped me. They were a brand new team and started contacting players already in the league to try out. I got an invite to a try out and wasn’t sure how I’d get there without my coach finding out. My billet family helped coordinate with me to fly out and everything else. I had an amazing time at tryouts—the whole vibe was so different and I ended up signing for the next season shortly after. 

Before the season ended, I was told that people from the country’s governing body for hockey were there to interview anyone who was mentioned in the report. I didn’t know what report they were talking about so assumed I wasn’t involved. It turns out it was the one the boys’ team coach had been building, and there were pages dedicated to me in this report, so I was a top choice for an interview.

My billet mom was allowed to come in with me and I just answered all the questions I was asked. It turned out she was suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, but she kept that very quiet.

Even after I moved to my new team, I had to play against my old team. I enjoyed this because my new team knew more or less about what had happened. It caused my new team to rally around me and we won the first game. I got taken out from behind by one of my old teammates. One of my friends was still on my old team and told me the coach had told the one who hit me to take me out. As the season went on, every time we played against my old team I would get yelled at by my old coach. She tried to get inside my head but my teammates didn’t let her get to me. 

I had a great season though. I graduated high school and didn’t miss a single league game. I even played every playoff game and didn’t miss a shift. It’s crazy the difference a good coach and a not so good coach can make on a player or even a team dynamic, as I learned the hard way. 

The Takeaway

Without that coach, though I wouldn’t be where I am today and I couldn’t be prouder of myself and my teammates for what we went through that season.

I might have felt isolated at the time, but looking back I know how supportive my billet family was, the boys’ team coach, the goalie coach, and all the players who stuck by me when they didn’t have to. I still talk to them today. I actually talk to some of them more now that all we’ve left, which doesn’t surprise me. The area was gorgeous and I had an experience of living in a new country. I never regret going, although many of the events still affect me a lot to this day.

I decided to write this to help other people speak out. Even if something is happening around you, don’t be scared to speak up. It’s not easy to do but together we can reduce controversial coaching techniques and straight up abuse. I know what happened to me wasn’t anywhere near as bad as some of the stories that are coming out, but that’s why it’s important to share. Just because your coach isn’t outright beating you doesn’t mean they aren’t abusing you mentally or in other ways. It is important to speak out about the other forms of abuse or ill-treatment. 

I hope this helps you feel less alone and inspires you to speak out if you see or experience anything.

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