USA Hockey’s Girl Problem

This month’s USA Hockey Magazine celebrated the national tournament winners at each age group. Unfortunately, the print edition went out with the boys teams pictured as the victors for both the boys’ and girls’ tournaments. While this was surely an unintentional oversight by some staffer, it unfortunately is symbolic of an ongoing problem in USA Hockey’s approach to girls in hockey.

Before going into the details, let me say up front that I’m a big fan of USA Hockey. I’ve coached youth teams of boys, girls, and mixed for last 13 years or so, and have benefited extremely from the organization and training that USA Hockey provides for (and rightfully demands of) their coaches. Overall its been an extremely rewarding experience, and like many youth coaches I can only hope that the players have gotten as much out of it as I have.

Furthermore, USA Hockey’s progress in building female participation in hockey is fantastic. From their own report, USA Hockey now has more than 65,000 registered female players, representing over 10% of all players, and in states with strong programs, such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, over 20% of registered players are female. The success of the USA Women’s Olympic teams is not a fluke – there is great participation from teenagers to young girls that is feeding the program.

The problem is that USA Hockey can’t get over the hump and give the girls equal status with the boys. Take the national championships, for instance. Go to the web page and click on “2015 Nationals”, and you’ll see categories like “Youth Tier II”, followed later by “Girls Tier II”. You’ll also see a “High School Division”, and clicking through “Girls Tier I” you’ll find “Tier I Girls 19U”. The message is clear: there’s Hockey, and then there’s Girl’s Hockey.

I suspect this was left over from a time when the only option for girls was to play on boys teams, and that still happens sometimes. But take part in USA Hockey coach’s training and you’ll see this problem goes deeper:

  • since I was coaching a girl’s team this year I needed to complete the standard series of coaches training videos for my age group, and then also complete a special module for girl’s coaches (there’s Hockey, and then there’s Girl’s Hockey).
  • one standard module started out “U14 is an important age, since it is when most players will first experience body checking”. Boy, I sure hope not, since its not allowed in girls hockey.
  • at my in-person training last summer, a USA Hockey video meant to inspire players and coaches to become officials featured exactly zero women, and every reference to a referee was “he”.

Hockey is a great sport, whether it played by boys, girls or a mix of both. USA Hockey has done a great job of fostering the growth of participation among girls, but needs to make the final step and give its girls and women a first-class status.