Is coaching women that much different than coaching men? 7 ways to get the most from your female hockey player.
By Rick Traugott
Not long ago, I had the real pleasure of helping host a NAPHA weekend at the school where I coach. NAPHA is the North American Prep Hockey Association, a league of eight prep school hockey teams located in places like Buffalo, N.Y., Halifax, N.S., and everywhere in between. The league, now in its 13th season, is unique not only because of geography but also because it is only for girls.
A NAPHA weekend is one where all eight teams come together to play four league games, all in one place. As I sat watching the second game on a Saturday morning, I was in awe of the fact that we had Northwood School from Lake Placid, N.Y., playing King’s-Edgehill School from outside of Halifax, N.S., in a regular-season game.
The league is truly unique! And the skill level of the athletes is outstanding—something that gets better every year in the women’s game. And as I sat there, it occurred to me how much I enjoy being part of this side of hockey and dealing with the female hockey player.
A while ago I asked the athletic director at our school if I could move from the boys’ program to the girls’. I saw a real opportunity to build a program that was special on the girls’ side, and to create an athletic experience that would be meaningful and enriching to the players who came through. I have had an amazingly enriching coaching experience working with female athletes for the past 15 years, and every season ranks as a favorite.
I think there are a number of coaches who believe that coaching women is a whole lot different than coaching men. I disagree. Without question there are differences, but at the core, whether we are coaching male or female athletes, we are coaching young people who care deeply about what they are doing and accomplishing, and how they fit into a team dynamic.
At the risk of stepping into a proverbial minefield, here are some thoughts about those differences and how I approach coaching a female hockey player.
1. Have the same expectations
Working hard, competing, being a team, and having fun are all essential elements to coaching any gender, in any sport. I have run skills sessions recently with both boys’ and girls’ teams, and those sessions don’t look any different. Athletes don’t get off the hook or get a pass because of gender. All athletes should always be held to high standards.
2. Emphasize creativity more
My experience has been that girls tend to want to be coached as to where to be on the ice all of the time. To develop players I try to keep systems to a minimum, and often have to say “just go play.”
3. Insist on competition in practice
If we are playing a half-ice 3-on-3 game, I make sure the girls are keeping score. In some cases, I’ve found that many a female hockey player isn’t comfortable with “winning.” I want to make sure it is part of their athletic experience to strive to compete and win.
4. Make changes to the lineup very carefully
In my experience, even a shift of one player from the third line to the second line can send negative ripples through a team—to the point that the backup goalie can feel like it was her fault that the coach made the change to the lines. So I get a little sneaky.
If I want to make a change to the lines, I will wait for a penalty situation in a game, where there is some line juggling due to our being shorthanded. I “mistakenly” get my lines mixed up to where I want them, and then just go with them for the rest of the game. No one has time to think about it, and often by game’s end the players are hoping that I will keep the lines that way because they worked out so well.
5. Allow for free time
I always make sure there is some time built in to the team schedule for the players to just hang out and be together. For example, we might have a coach-led practice, but at the end I let the players have 10 minutes of free time before leaving the ice for the dressing room. This can be a crucial time for organic team building, which helps to foster a more cohesive dressing room.
6. Avoid singling anyone out in front of the whole team
Whether it’s about something good or something bad, if I give individual praise or criticism I will almost always have that conversation away from team settings.
7. Try to have one-on-one moments with every player
This is something I strive for every time we are together. It may be asking how school went that day, or a comment about a great play made during a game or practice in the drill line. A little eye contact and those one-on-one moments are an important part of relationship building between coaches and their athletes.
At the end of the day, instilling confidence in our athletes is paramount to success. There may be subtle differences in how we accomplish that with each gender, but confidence building is the key to developing athletes and, ultimately, preparing young people for life.
Rick Traugott has served with Hockey Canada as a camp coach, with both the National Women’s U18 and U22/Development teams. His teams have won numerous championships and medals in international competitions. For more information visit his website, www.ricktraugott.com. Reproduced with permission of Rick Traugott.