Chalk Talk: Should every girl have to play with the boys to improve?
As tryouts approach, many parents of young female hockey players question whether their girls would benefit from playing with the boys.
Ideas like “the boys are more aggressive” or “the game play is faster” tend to be in the forefront of the mind and it’s hard to look past them. When looking for some clarity, it is important to consider the girl’s individual personality in and outside of the rink.
One of the most insightful observations is how the female child handles bullying. On most boys teams, she will be the only girl, and if she is the more sensitive or shy type at school, this is usually an accurate representation of what it would be like on the boys team.
The boys don’t tend to treat the girls with respect even if they are more skilled than them, which can make for a very long season depending on the girl. If the female player talks about the boys at school as being her friends or has enjoyed participating in another co-ed sport before, putting her on an all-boys hockey team might be a positive and comfortable experience.
At a young age, the emotional part of the game is just as important as the physical part. The team camaraderie can greatly affect a player’s ability at any age or level and if your girl is not having fun in addition to the competition, she may become disinterested in the sport. Also, consider where the female player stands in comparison to her current teammates. If she is the most aggressive and skilled player on the ice, she may be bored. Look at the options of who she could be playing with in the next season on both a boys and a girls team, and weigh the advantages.
However, it is not just about the peer group. It is also about the type of coaching the player will receive. Many coaches have said that they simply do not know how to coach the girl on their team. Unfortunately, this causes coaches to simply ignore the girl on the ice and leave her to develop bad habits and a low self-esteem. If possible, before making a decision on a team, watch the prospective coach run a practice and see how they treat their players. A good coach should not change their methods based on gender, and should be able to teach all of the players equally.
As the girls age up, it is important to evaluate their interest level in the sport and their ability. If they are comfortable playing at the Bantam age level (13-14) on a boys team, it can be beneficial. The speed of the game is different at that age and the girls learn very quickly how to keep their heads up. They can develop great hockey sense, knowing what to do with the puck before it even arrives. If the decision is to switch to an all-girls team after the Bantam level, many of the girls take those advantages of strength and speed and end up excelling on a girls team.
There are many factors to consider when choosing where to play and unfortunately, happiness is many times overlooked. It is crucial to discuss with the girls if they are enjoying playing on their current team, how they feel about their teammates, the competition, etc.
Putting them in co-ed clinics is a great way to expose them to the possibility of playing with the boys and if the means are there, playing on a boys team and a girls team can be a great thing. Discussing the options with the organization, observing the female players behavior, and communicating with them is the best way to make a decision.
Ultimately, it’s not always the team she plays for that matters, it’s the work she puts in when she’s there and the attitude she has towards her team and the game.
Christen Keogh is the assistant coach of the LA Lions 12U team.