Boys vs Girls Hockey - Pathway to success
I recently came across a very interesting article from the Edmonton Journal written by Jason Gregor regarding female hockey players playing boys hockey and wanted to share it along with my personal opinion on the topic.
In my position as a female hockey developer and coach, many parents have often asked me my opinion in regards to where their daughter should play. I also see many parents, make up their own minds (very quickly mind you) as they believe boys hockey to be the best environment for their female hockey-playing daughters. Unfortunately, I don’t always agree with those who are quick to register for boy’s hockey and here is why.
First and foremost, it is important to understand that the pathway a female hockey player takes as they progress through the minor hockey levels can be very different. There isn’t a right or wrong place or league to play in, but the decisions made must correspond with the personality of the player. I would never tell a parent that they MUST put their daughter in girl’s hockey or vice versa, tell them she MUST play with the boys because it’s a very different answer for everyone. What I will tell them is to think about a few things before making up their minds.
Ultimately, player development or lack there of will be the determining factor for the level of success the player achieves and I think one of the biggest mistakes hockey parents make is when they quickly decide to place their daughter into the boys hockey mainstream because although to some degree, the speed of the game is faster, I am not convinced that speed of play is the determining factor contributing to overall development.
Mel Davidson who currently holds the position of general manager for Hockey Canada’s women’s team explains, “The girls’ game is very different. It’s a puck-possession game; there are a lot more puck touches in our game, at the minor level, than there is in boys hockey. We see that a lot when girls move over from boys’ hockey, they are not as good with the puck as the girls who played with girls growing up. The girls who played with boys are more physical, and maybe stronger on their skates, but by peewee I believe a parent needs to make a decision.”
The most important question parents and female hockey players need to think about is the goal of their hockey participation. What do you want your daughter to get out of playing hockey? Do you want to play elite level hockey, make a provincial level team, get a University scholarship, or even represent Canada at the Olympics? If so, development, experience, attitude and work ethic are all equally critical to reaching any of these goals. In addition, the coaches the player has, the opportunities they receive growing up and the team they play for are all factors that contribute to the success or lack there of for any player. Hockey parents who simply think that because the boys game is faster, it is the best place for my daughter to play COULD be making a huge mistake.
In addition to what Mel Davidson explained above, I also feel that there are other characteristics of top female hockey players that could be minimized for those playing with the boys. Leadership development is critical. Many females in the boys game, find themselves to be very quiet in the dressing room and not learning how to speak in front of the group. They have spent years of getting dressed alone (or with one or two other female players on their team) only to enter the room when the coach comes in for a pregame speech. They don’t become leaders on their team, simply because they may be too shy to speak their mind, or to hold their teammate accountable for their actions.
Socialization is also something that comes along with being part of a team and a lifelong skill critical for everyone. Davidson further explained, “You can pick out the girls that have played with the boys in a heartbeat, as soon as they walk in the dressing room. Unless they are involved in team sports in school or very active in other areas, they do not know how to socialize or be a part of the female culture or environment. Around 80 per cent of girls who played in that setting (with boys) never advance very far in the girl’s game, because they can’t get comfortable within a female dressing room,” said Davidson.
Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and those who don’t agree with myself or Mel Davidson will quickly reply by saying “Marie-Phillip Poulin, played boys hockey, and look where she is!!!” My response to that is simple, if your daughter is as talented, as strong, and as determined as Marie-Phillip Poulin was when she was younger, then by all means put your daughter in boys hockey and hope that she will develop her ability to socialize with a group, develop her leadership skills and have the ability to posses the puck during the game without being afraid to get hit. It is also important to note that Poulin did not have easy access to competitive female hockey. She also played many years of girl’s hockey in the spring with the Montreal Ice Storm, which helped her develop in other areas of her game.
The women’s game is growing, especially in Canada and the United States, and more and more girls are getting scholarships. The opportunity to get a paid education for female hockey players to me should be the goal of every elite female hockey player. Scholarship opportunities in Canada or the United States are higher than ever, but so is the competition.
In the article from the Edmonton Journal, Davidson also mentioned that hockey dads tend to struggle more with how they interpret and understand their hockey-playing daughter. “Fathers always try to tell me that their daughter is just like a boy on the ice,” Davidson said. “No matter what you say about your daughter, she is a girl. She sees and thinks things differently, and you might not realize it and she might not tell you, but she does.”
One of the things I hear with parents from players on spring hockey teams, is how much fun their daughter has in spring hockey. “She just loves playing with the girls”. I understand that spring hockey is generally a higher caliber as most players are hand picked by a team of coaches, but why can’t we give the girls this experience all year round?
The debate will never completely dissapear and there will always be people who completely disagree with my though process on the topic but I think it is fair to conclude by saying; Your daughter isn't a boy! It’s as simple as that, and for some reason (especially in Quebec) a number of talented female hockey players remain in the boys game. When I ask why, most parents are quick to tell me, the quality of play is better, the game is faster, there is sometimes less travel, and they want the challenge for their daughter. I feel that this thinking process is unfortunate because although I will agree with some that there are exceptions to every rule, and there are maybe a few extremely talented female players who will still develop in the boys game, I honestly believe that if we were able to bring all the female players from the boys game and place them on competitive female teams, most parents would be pleasantly surprised. It simply takes one family to start the trend. Will it be you?