When Players arrive at an arena it is the first place they go, and upon leaving it will be the last experience they have. Its impact on a Players performance, a Players motivation, and a Players lasting impression is unparalleled. The average Hockey Locker Room has the ability to make for a great season and grow The Game, but when it comes to female Hockey it can also destroy and diminish morale, taking down with it any chance at a Team’s on ice success and lead to an overall decline in enrollment.
Inside a Locker Room over a regular season the Team will inevitably develop a social hierarchy, there will be Leaders and Followers, Characters and Clowns and there will ultimately be conflict. But where a Girls room differs from its gender opposite is in its Supervision and Mentoring. It is no secret, especially in the youth game, Coaching and Staffing is heavily Male Dominated leading to prolonged periods of unsupervised behaviour. This is rarely intentional and is most often an oversight, but correcting it will have nothing but a positive influence and lead to better results on the ice and as well to a more focused group.
Each season in minor hockey generally starts the same way, Coaches are selected and they build their Staff from there, taking time to carefully pick Assistants and Trainers that share their vision and commitment to on ice learning, development and player safety. Add in a Manager to ensure day to day operations are upheld and applicable paperwork and forms are completed and in order and you are ready to start player selections and practices. Shortly after, the team is picked and it is time for them to come together as a Team, you open the Locker Room door and great each player as they arrive. Once all in you close the door, walk away and retreat to your coffee and hockey conversation.
Inside that room now sits seventeen individuals, some know each other, most even like each other, and others are there for the first time. Girls and Women’s Hockey has been abundantly successful in its inclusion rate and the Players come from all walks of life, varying social and economic statuses, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnic origins, with differences in their morals and value systems. Not only should this be one of life’s best character growth experiences, it is also one of life’s best social learning opportunities. However left unattended, this could also lead to social experiment gone completely astray with the room being divided, and some girls left feeling alone, ousted, and rejected.
Once a room is divided in is extremely difficult to restore the sense of safety and security that each young girl needs in order to perform at their absolute best. When there has been an incident where the will of one Player is imposed on another the rest of the team is forced to either try and ignore it, or choose sides. Some Players will develop anxiety and ask themselves “Why Me?” or “Am I Next?” and this emotion and reservation will follow them to every game, practice and Team event distracting everyone from the task at hand, and ultimately ruining the benefits of being involved in a Team Based Sport.
I have in the past had the pleasure of working with an all-Female staff who, before the season began, implemented a policy of “Two Deep” which meant that of the four of them, two would be in the Locker Room at all times. This was the most effective and positive Team experience for each and every girl in that room, they were given instruction and much needed mentorship. The unfortunate part of that story is that all four Women were run out of town at the end of the season by overzealous parents, only one of them has since returned (but that is another article).
In other years teams have asked for “Room Moms” to help out and pitch in when they can. This idea does work, however care must be taken in the selection of these helpers. They must have dedication to their role and be able to act in an impartial manner. It is Human Nature to want to nurture you own child and to respond with ire against anyone who is perceived as a threat mentally or physically. In one case I have had a Team Mom openly tell her eight year old daughter to settle a dispute by punching her Teammate in the face. Conflict is inevitable, but Conflict Resolution is an acquired skill and tactic.
A Male Head Coach must apply the same consideration in selecting Locker Room Attendants as they do in selecting other members of their Staff, after all, if challenges occur off the ice you can rest assured that they will ultimately find their way onto it. This becomes ever more important during crucial mental and physical growth development years in young women, this will not happen at the exact same time for each Player so extra care must be taken.
Being a part of a Team is one of the most enriching experiences anyone can ever have; it teaches accountability, passion, self-awareness, discipline, and respect. The girls can learn to respect individuality by encompassing it and each other into the driving force for the greater good. In order for that to occur, Teams need to nurture a culture of change and tolerance. With the right people in the right places, success is never out of reach. The ice surface may be the glue that binds them together, but it is in the Locker Room where the true potential begins and if not cared for, it is where it ends.