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Banquet Speech: Agency and Possibility

How do you sum up an entire season and try to leave your players with an inspiring message? Here’s one Coach’s attempt after the 2021-2022 season.

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I was fortunate enough to lead an incredible group of U13 players this season and it was important for me to leave them with a message of agency and possibility.

Before we officially bring this season to a close, and in the interest of time I am going to condense it as much as I possibly can, I will try to stay on topic and leave things out like…only 47% of girls ages 13-15 participate in sport, and the number is even lower for the 16-18 age group sitting around 38%…and I also won’t list all of the reasons why these numbers are bad, very bad, AND I’ll also try to refrain from focusing on our responsibility as citizens, taxpayers, and leaders to ensure there are inclusive and accessible options for girls to participate in sport in our communities…or maybe I’ll just talk about it for a little bit in a few seconds, but… 

Player Thank You
First and foremost, thank you to this tremendous group of athletes. You showed up week after week and put forward an effort that YOU should be proud of. I hope you learned to push yourselves, to get past the point where it’s hard, and to know that when you land on the other side, you’ve changed and that you recognize something new about yourself. The drills were supposed to be hard—the line skates are supposed to boarder on the edge of pushing yourself through the sometimes agonizing burn of your lactic threshold, and the psychological challenge of not wanting to do it. We designed this season with intention—and purposely included a balance of fun activities to build team spirit, confidence, and friendships. COVID often tried to diminish our efforts, but you all persevered through the challenges. The last full season of hockey that this group played was in 2018-2019—that means when you were in grade 3 or 4. What an incredible amount of change that has happened since then, and that is parallel to the amount of growth that occurred this season. Let’s be honest, we started the season with A LOT of…opportunity ahead of us…and it took us a while to get sorted to the ways of hockey…such as the fact that the left side of the rink changes in the second period—still occasionally tripped us up…but we got there…we went from Georgina beating us baaaad (I have a mental block on the score), to tying them at the end of the season. And I KNOW if we had that COVID month back we would have been able to beat them. I KNOW this. I am proud of you, but as I said off the top, YOU should be proud of YOU. This team is but a very small part in your very big lives, and I know each and everyone of you is going to do amazing things. 

Seeing is Believing
Visibility and representation matter. To become it, you first have to see it. As females in a female hockey organization you should have voice and agency in your organization. We are here to promote and support females in hockey—you are the females. This is your association. We can see horrible things happening south of our boarder where women are losing autonomy over their own bodies and decisions are being made about what they can and cannot do, and at the risk of making this sound politically charged, I will say it starts here. Understanding your role in creating your own future is a product of your life–the experiences you have, the situations you are in, the way people talk to you, or make decisions for you, all of this informs the way you understand the world. It suggested that ‘sport’ is a great equalizer that spans gender, race, and socio-economic status, but we know this isn’t quite true. And I’ll get my stats back out if anyone wants to know the numbers.  

Hockey is Life
Hockey is a window into society. We sing the virtues of hockey participation—better team players, time management skills, willingness to try new things, resiliency—all the characteristics that we associate with being a productive and contributing member of society. But what we fail to acknowledge, even in a girls hockey association, is that females are treated differently. And this is why I am passionate about hockey. Hockey is my small nugget of the world, it’s my passion, it’s my thing, it is where I show up and try to share my experience with others. I’ve had my time in the spotlight, my playing days are long, long gone, but what I can do now is offer a chance for you to see that there are opportunities in hockey that span beyond gender; to look up and see your coach is a woman, the referee is a woman; to ensure you have agency and voice in your teams; and to know that other women are showing up to support you, because the lessons you learn here about your capability, possibilities, and your positionality in the world, are carried off the ice and into your lives. 

Challenge Everything and Know What’s Possible
You will be cut from teams, you will be passed over for promotions that you deserve, people will say hurtful, untrue things about you, and you will see others who have less ability, less experience, and less qualifications elevated into positions on the basis of who they know rather than what they have accomplished, heck this might even happen in the course of one hockey season, but it is our responsibility to continue to challenge these decisions and to ask ‘why?’ You cannot settle for someone else’s assessment on your ability, and you need to know that gender is not a defining feature of your ability. After nine months with us leading this team, I hope you know it is possible. And while this season is over, I will see you on the ice this Sunday, and I hope you remember everything I said about it purposefully being hard.  

References
Stats on participation from, Canadian Women & Sport, The Rally Report, (2020)

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