“Keep your daughter in boys hockey as long as possible” has been a very common outlook for many parents and girls. I understand this first hand; I also grew up playing boys hockey and was extremely guilty of favoring it over girls hockey for the speed, physicality, and the overall team atmosphere.
The question I have seen parents/players face over and over again is always, “At what age should my daughter switch to girls hockey?”
It is a great question that is unique to every individual, but I have recently found myself asking, “Why do girls need to play boys hockey in order to excel? What can we do to change this stigma in girls youth hockey?”
Another coach and myself have asked this question over the last two seasons. She even attended a USA Hockey coaching seminar and brought up this question. Instead of answering, the seminar manipulated the question back to how long your daughter should play boys hockey.
BOYS HOCKEY vs. GIRLS HOCKEY
To be able to figure out the stigma facing girls youth hockey, you have to figure out why the boys hockey path is more challenging/successful for girls to start in. From my own personal experience as a goalie playing with the boys, I loved the faster shots, the physically demanding games and practices, and the feeling of accomplishment proving that I could belong and excel with the boys. I have found that most parents and daughters in boys hockey share similar feelings.
Boys hockey is often far more accessible to play than girls hockey, especially at the younger ages. The closest girls travel team may be within an hour or more. Meanwhile, there could be multiple boys organizations closer than the girls team. What’s the benefit of driving that distance for just youth hockey when you have multiple options closer to home?
Ice availability is also a huge factor. Often times, girls organizations are viewed as “second rate” with less than ideal ice times, fewer ice slots, and overall fewer opportunities than the boys are afforded. Because of the fewer opportunities, girls are often viewed as less developed in girls-only organizations.
IMPROVING GIRLS HOCKEY
So how do we make a difference in our girls youth hockey culture and environment? I am here to challenge the youth teams, organizations, parents and players. There are now professional female players who are taking this same initiative for their own pro women’s league. I think the same ideals should be applied to our own girls youth hockey.
If you are going to have a product that people have to travel to, I believe it needs to be special. This starts with the girls youth organizations, teams and coaches. We should be developing the best possible atmosphere for girls to develop and succeed in. Teaching players how to play physical and aggressively in practice not only raises the level of competition but it can also keep them safe in their future.
It’s no secret that higher concussion rates are often seen in women’s hockey compared to men’s hockey, and even other sports. I believe it’s critical to teach players body contact in practice to keep them safe on the ice. Plus, there’s the obvious benefit of developing strength and body control. Challenge individuals outside their comfort zones, and when they struggle, help teach them how to perform the skills to be successful and keep showing them progressions.
If you have a youth girls team, who says you can’t compete against boys teams? Showcase their girl power, put them in a fast environment and see what they can accomplish. It’s a tremendous way to challenge players, get more games on your schedule, and get quality ice time.
THE RIGHT PATH FOR YOUR PLAYER
Each player must do what’s right for their own happiness and development first and foremost. There may not be a great girls hockey option for your player at the moment: maybe they are happier competing with boys, maybe there is no girls team nearby? Whatever reason you have, it’s okay and your player needs to do what’s best for them.
However, don’t be afraid of stepping into new territory. If you can find a great girls program that can develop your player and give them a tremendous experience on and off the ice, it may help them love the game even more. Being put into a different role or environment may give them a chance to flourish in a way they never knew they could. It’s okay to try something new and see if it works out. The more players buy into a product, the more and better opportunities there will be for them!
In the organization I’m a part of, we have recently started implementing many of these ideas in our younger teams and we’ve seen amazing improvement. We put together our first ever U10 team, which was a tough sell for so many new players to hockey whose parents all wanted the right path for their kid. It was also a tough sell to parents of players who had experience. Our product had to be special to get both sides to buy in. In just one month, girls who had never played a game before are not only excelling against other girls, but they are now beating experienced boys teams!
It’s my hope to have people think outside the box when it comes to changing the youth girls game for the better. These changes do not happen right away — it takes time, organization, and lots of hands working together on and off the ice.
Organizations cannot do this alone, parents and players also have to buy in and be willing to put in the work to build this future. It cannot come down to one person making a difference, we all have to be a united front and step up for the future of the girls game.
So, I ask again, “Why not girls hockey?”