CAHA ensuring equal opportunity for mixed-gender teams
Even with the explosion of girls hockey in California and across the United States, not all female players are suiting up on all-female teams.
The number of girls playing with boys on mixed-gender teams is shrinking, says Kathy McGarrigle, director of the Anaheim Lady Ducks and a member of the California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) board of directors.
Still, McGarrigle says CAHA is committed to making sure the girls that are playing on boys teams – which is more prevalent at younger age groups and in some of the more remote areas of the state – have access to equal opportunities and facilities.
“There can certainly be a little normal concern when girls are playing on boys teams,” said McGarrigle. “Things like fair access to locker rooms can be a challenge for some programs, arenas, or coaches and there still needs to be work done to make sure girls aren’t changing in the bathroom all the time.”
At the younger age groups like 8U or 10U, the gender gap isn’t as wide as it is when players start to get a little older. Plus, when you factor in the distance some players are from a dedicated girls program, the decision can get a little tougher for parents trying to decide what the best fit is for a developing female hockey player.
“Sometimes, logistically, you aren’t going to have access to an all-girls team if you’re living in a place like Bakersfield, for example,” said McGarrigle. “It can be challenging to find a team within a reasonable distance, but it can also be challenging when you’re a girl on a boys team trying to navigate yourself into a positive experience. It works fine at Mite and Squirt, but girls are going to have difficulties eventually as they get older and you’re dealing with changing in different rooms, privacy, social worries – it’s not the same camaraderie, and that can affect everyone.”
When girls do eventually make the jump to an all-girls team at either 12U or 14U, McGarrigle said she sees more defensemen than forwards.
“I would say 75 percent of the girls coming to play in our program that have been playing boys hockey are defensemen,” said McGarrigle. “Is that really the right ratio? Especially at young ages, girls tend to be more attentive and coordinated with what the coach is telling them to do. That’s more of the temperament you see not just in hockey, but in school as well. Boys typically like to wing it more and there is nothing wrong with that – it’s just apples and oranges – but what you end up with when you have girls are players who are obedient, team-oriented, and like to pass the puck, so as soon as coaches see that, a lot of them think they are better suited to defense.”
McGarrigle is concerned that some girls are missing out at the younger levels while playing on boys teams by not getting exposure to playing offensively.
“I’ve had girls that went on to play Division I hockey as forwards who came to me from boys teams having only played as a defenseman,” said McGarrigle. “These players became powerful collegiate players after we changed them over into forwards, and I think it’s a challenge for coaches to recognize that girls can play forward – maybe in a complimentary role if they don’t have the dynamic personality on offense – but there is currently very little development for female forwards in boys hockey.”
Ultimately, McGarrigle and CAHA want to ensure that girls have equal access to everything the sport has to offer, regardless of the gender of their teammates.
“We want to make sure everything is fair for the girls that play,” she said. “We want to make sure there are dedicated facilities available so that these players can feel comfortable. Things like that – better awareness to meet the challenges when you have a mixed-gender team and the opportunity to teach respect and camaraderie for teams that have one or several females on the team.”
— John B. Spigott