Every parent wants their child to have the best opportunities to be successful AND happy.
When it comes to hockey, does that mean their young daughter should play on a boys team in her development years? In areas where there are viable girls hockey programs available, it is clear that there are two questions you must consider:
Is my daughter’s on-ice development improved by playing with boys?
Is that development worth missing out on some of the positive social aspects of playing on an all-girls team?
Kristen Richards, a Canadian professional ice hockey player, played AA in the GTHL for the Etobicoke Canucks until she was 13.
“I absolutely loved playing boys hockey,” said Richards, who played four seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Brampton/Markham Thunder. “It was difficult for my parents to get me to switch to the girls game.
“I loved the physicality, compete level, and development opportunities that existed from being in that circle. The physicality of the boys side helped me to develop balance, puck protection, and vision to make quicker plays.”
Tori Charron, who played AA for the boys’ Tecumseh Eagles, had a great experience as well.
“Looking back I don’t think I would have changed that experience,” said Charron, who played NCAA hockey with Norwich University. “I feel like there was a lot more emphasis of keeping your head up from an early age, preparing us for when hitting would be implemented and I think that makes a huge difference in the early years.
“I played with a lot of girls who, even in college, had a hard time getting their heads up. This changes the game completely.”
All the women we spoke to who played on boys teams growing up had positive experiences but also faced some challenges.
Charron recalls her memories of changing in janitors’ closets or the arena’s public bathroom, sometimes feeling left out.
“This can be difficult and I didn’t realize that until I started playing girls hockey and saw what I was missing,” she said.
Brittany Friesen, who played boys Novice to Bantom with Oro Minor Hockey, also struggled at times with trying to fit in on a boys’ team.
“There were a couple instances of bullying or certain teammates making it clear that they did not like my presence there,” Friesen said. “But I was lucky to have supportive coaches who recognized those things and ensured that playing was a safe space for me.”
When making the decision, USA Hockey encourages parents to consider which program offers a better coaching and player development strategy. Which program will continue to challenge and allow your daughter to improve? Add this to your research homework.
Kayla Magarelli, who played A and AA boys with the Duffield Devils shared her experience.
“I loved playing hockey with the boys. It was really fun,” said Magarelli. “Sometimes I felt left out of “inside jokes.” Once I moved to girls hockey, I appreciated the social aspect more.”
Hockey Canada (Female Hockey Development) says, “It is important for girls to have the opportunity to interact with teammates and be leaders on their teams. The skill level of female hockey has increased dramatically and girls today have the opportunity to compete at a high level and still benefit from the social and leadership side of the game as well.”
Hockey goes beyond the sport. Many girls will grow up together and develop lifelong friendships. Several women we spoke with indicated that with the advancements in girls hockey they would play in a girls’ hockey program today if they had the option.
Consider the pros and cons of each option, including the athlete’s decision. She needs to be comfortable and have fun wherever she plays.
“It is important to remember that at some point the athlete will have to join the women’s game if they wish to continue to play at a high performance (provincial or national) and/or a post – secondary level,” said Melody Davidson, former coach of the Canadian National Women’s hockey team who is now with Hockey Canada.
The good news is no matter where girls start, their path for a future career in women’s hockey has never been brighter.