So this is the first post I’m writing in 2017, and I’m afraid it’s not motivated by happiness. I am very glad to be done with 2016, and the stress it brought to me and my friends. I am hoping this year starts with a bit more fun, and so far, it’s been pretty good! This last week, though, I was caught off guard.
As I mentioned in my last post, one of my jobs this year is as assistant coach on a young girls hockey team for my old association. I LOVE coaching these girls. I work with two other young women, both of whom played high school and college hockey. Our players are hilarious. They’re all around 10 years old, smart and sassy and starting to love the game like I loved the game. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get them motivated, but myself and my fellow coaches are attempting to get these girls tough, active, and ready for anything. I am a firm believer that these skills, as useful as they are on the ice, make these girls better students, family members, and even productive members of society someday. We need more women in leadership positions, and being told to take the body and get into battles on the ice has a funny way of building confidence in girls. I’m very proud of how far my team has come this year. As they love to hear me say, they’re kicking butt, and I can’t wait to finish this season strong.
That’s not to say coaching isn’t without its difficulties. At such a young age, being appropriate with criticism, balancing feelings, and developing skills is a tightrope walk. With our player’s parents feedback and by asking the players themselves, we’ve navigated that potentially tricky road very well. Thank god for supportive parents, and wonderful players. Any coach would understand what I mean. The time organizing practice, driving to away tournaments, counseling these young girls, and even going to impromptu outdoor ice to surprise them absolutely takes time, but it’s time that I believe is well spent when it is appreciated like it is with our team. I have no problem with investing time into young hockey players to make them have a little fun. It’s fun for me too!
The difficulty of coaching comes when that support and respect is replaced with negativity. This week I remembered firsthand that as women in hockey, and in coaching positions, my coaching staff and I are a minority in the hockey world.
As young hockey teams often do, we shared ice with another team. The team was a young boys team, and had older, male coaches, a couple of whom were likely parents. The first inkling we had that this practice would be different was when my head coach, Sarah, asked the boy’s head coach if he was interested in warming up together. This is normal, and depends on the coach’s preference. The coach didn’t respond with a yes or no, but rather looked over at one of our girl’s dads that often helps us during practices, back to Sarah, and asked “YOU’RE the head coach?” We were later told he was asking people on the ice who we were, and why we were coaching.
Honestly, at this point, I don’t even feel like going into details. There were several exchanges after this introduction that made it clear he believed himself to be a superior coach. Safe to say that there was not a whole lot of respect shown for myself or the other women on our coaching staff. That dad, who I mentioned helps us out? Even he brought it up, and stated it was probably because we were young women. We were left with a half empty puck bag, both nets to put away after practice (their staff all got off the ice and left them for us to deal with) and in my case, a lot of anger.
What makes me angry isn’t the fact that this man couldn’t believe that we were the coaches. To be fair, his question has a bit of merit. There are fewer women in coaching than men, it’s simply a fact. The problem comes when after learning this fact, he didn’t treat us as equals. We are all coaching young hockey players, of the same age and similar skills. (In fact, I believe our girls were stronger on basic skating skills, and played the body well during our final scrimmage.) Why doesn’t that make us equals?
Our coaching staff has 12 years of Division I and III hockey experience, at least 12 years of experience at the high school level, and we had strong connections to this conference. My head coach and I played with and against each other for over 6 years as kids. In fact, she’s coaching varsity for another team in the conference. I think we have enough experience with the game to get by, and as an added bonus, we can more directly connect with our team because we’re women. As a young girl, I would’ve killed for a coach who could tell me what it was like to play women’s college hockey, or even what to expect at the next level. It is amazing to hear from our team parents that their girls look up to us, and that they come home from practice talking about how they want to be like us someday. It is amazing to be able to say to my team that I was just like them, and they can go further than I ever did if they work at it.
It’s disappointing when other coaches look down on my fellow coaches (and by default, my team) for being women and girls.
I don’t mean to stand on a soapbox, or to make this a bigger deal than it was. Realistically, it was an hour of passive-aggressive disrespect, when the women who played hockey before I did dealt with a lifetime of it. I just hope that it starts to fade away, and the boys club of coaching in hockey disbands. I mean, there are multiple female skating coaches at the NHL level. It’s time! Women can love this sport, they can play this sport, they can coach this sport, and they can find success in this sport. No one needs to win a Stanley Cup to teach 10 year olds how to shoot a puck.
I hope that the number of female coaches in hockey continues to climb. As a player I had at least one female coach on every coaching staff from high school through college, and I can tell you it meant a lot to have them there. I do NOT want to disparage male coaches and role models. Most of my coaches in hockey were men, and their support got me to where this sport took me. I wouldn’t trade their wealth of information for anything. However, I believe that the tide is changing. There are more opportunities for women and girls to play hockey than ever before. This means that there are more knowledgable alumni at every level, ready to share their love of hockey with the next generation of girls. There will always be a place for male coaches in hockey, but it’s time to make a bigger place for women on the same stage.
Until next time, stay warm, drive safe, and enjoy the little things (like the Wild beating the Blackhawks). Happy 2017!