Girls hockey teaches some valuable life lessons
By Jordan Elkins
Girls hockey—in Texas, and all over the United States for that matter—still flies under the radar of most people. Though the growth in popularity of the sport has been exponential, even in the last 5 to 7 years, many react to the concept of girls hockey with something like, “Really? Girls play hockey?” or, “I didn’t know there was college hockey for girls too.”
For us involved with girls hockey this sounds silly, to say the least. But I’d be willing to bet we all have had an encounter like this, and it definitely won’t be the last.
In most if not all of the articles I write on the subject, I find a way to relate the game of hockey to life. That’s because hockey provides for everyone a chance to learn valuable lessons at a young age, which can help later in life. Yet for girls, I believe some lessons dig a little deeper.
Allow me to explain: Mia Hamm, the great athlete and leader of USA’s Olympic soccer team, once said, “Coach us like men and treat us like women.” Girls and women are constantly seeking a balance between being seen as a woman, but not having that held against them. Most of us want to be seen for the potential we have, and not just our gender. Though we’re proud we are women, we truly want to be regarded as individuals who possess power, potential, and are capable of making an impact. Hockey gives girls firsthand experience at dealing with this ever-changing balance.
Many girls growing up in small towns—or areas where girls hockey isn’t so common—often have to buckle their helmets and step onto the ice with the boys, and with a lot more to prove. We all would like to believe that the playing field is equal; that it really doesn’t matter to young players, their parents, and coaches if there is a girl on the ice with the boys, but I think we know the truth. Some girls may have to work a little bit harder and give a little bit more in order to be seen as the hockey player they want to be. This lesson can either be incredibly helpful, or incredibly hurtful. However, it’s a lesson nonetheless, and one that I am committed to helping my young players see.
Here in Texas, we don’t have any other all-girl teams to play so we compete against boys’ teams. At first, some teams are reluctant to schedule games against our U14 team. But when they do, before we step on the ice, I remind the girls to look at the bigger picture. To prove to themselves and everyone else in the rink that they will be competitive no matter who they are playing against—to show that it isn’t a “girl’s team” versus a “boy’s team,” but two hockey teams competing against each other.
You may think asking 13- and 14-year-olds to see the bigger picture is a lost cause but it really isn’t, not for girls. These girls have chosen hockey for a reason: because it started as something unknown; because it’s about hard work; because it’s about their team; because it gives them a challenge and intrigues them; and more importantly, because being defined as a hockey player is something that makes them so proud.
Girls don’t just want to be told what to do in a drill; they constantly want to know why they are doing the specific drill. And for a coach who once was that young girl asking tons of questions, it’s the greatest thing to be a part of.
This is the perfect age to help girls hockey players foster confidence in themselves, any way possible. They need to be able to count on each other as a team, and to also learn to trust themselves and believe in what they personally can accomplish. Because if they can first learn these lessons within the walls of the rink, they will be more willing to have confidence in themselves and their potential when they take their gear off and head out into the world.
Girls really do need to be coached like men, but treated like women. They want to have fun, they want to be social, but they are also thirsting for hard work. There will always be assumptions, there will always be stereotypes, and many will never take girls’ sports as seriously as they do men’s sports. So it is up to the girls hockey players and their coaches to constantly prove their value and worth.
Coaches of women’s teams should expect more; push more; find a balance between the details and having fun; and aim to show them that working hard as a team is what will ultimately make the season as fun and rewarding as possible.
As we’ve all heard before, hockey isn’t all about winning. But for the girls who choose to wear their bows in the form of hockey laces, there is an incredible amount up for the taking.
Jordan Elkins is coach of the Dallas Stars Elite hockey club. From an article appearing on WomensHockeyLife.com—Adult Recreational Hockey. Published with permission.