Hockey great Angela James weighs in on girls-boys issue

By Alexis Bohlinger; Hockey Weekly 

Angela James is a women’s hockey pioneer, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

Her career was littered with tough times, being one of the few females in a predominantly male hockey world.

“There weren’t a lot of options when I played,” said James, who grew up in Toronto in the late 1970s. She suffered her fair share of ridicule but dominated the boys leagues and the women’s leagues resulting in her becoming one of the most influential women to ever step on the ice.

Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James: “There is room for improvement in girls hockey.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James: “There is room for improvement in girls hockey.”

James played with grit and tenacity and proved that female players were strong enough and tough enough to play the game just like the guys.

Since her playing days ended, James has coached both girls and boys Travel teams, making her the perfect person to chime in on the question of: Should girls play on girls teams or boys teams?

“Hockey is hockey,” James said. “I would encourage the girl to play where she is going to get the best development and be pushed.”

She added that Canada is still attempting to grow girls hockey.

“I believe the AA and AAA girls are very much on par with development,” James said. “But the A and House level leagues are watered down. Just like in the U.S., it’s tough to get a whole team full of great skaters.”

James believes this is a big reason why girls stay with the boys as long as possible.

“I believe there is room for improvement in girls hockey because boys are still favored with the best opportunities to develop,” said James after recently moving her own daughter, Toni, 10, to a girls team. “If my daughter had the passion and the drive, I would have most likely left her in boys hockey to continue to develop.”

She added the main reason she moved her daughter was because of the social aspect.

James has also observed that a number of parents put their daughters into boys hockey, thinking they will dominate the girls leagues when they make the switch but that’s not what happens. They find that the players are not ahead of the other girls.

“It could be that she was not happy within the team environment. It’s a lonely life to be the only girl,” she said.

James followed up by admitting that it could be a coaching issue and a lack of recognizing that the environment of playing with boys growing up was not conducive to that particular player’s development.

Knowing that hockey needs passionate and knowledgeable instructors on both sides, James now brings her experience and love of the game to the teams she coaches.

“I teach the boys and the girls the same material. I simply strategize differently with the girls because there is no body checking,” she said.

James testifies that this style has worked for her up to this point.

“I’m not a rah-rah coach. That’s not my style,” she said. “The kids will either respond or they won’t. Good coaches recognize the kids that need to be taught differently and that’s when your other coaches come into play.”

James admits that the biggest difference between boys and girls hockey occurs around age 14 when their size is noticeably different.

“Boys will inevitably be faster because of their size and strength,” James said.  “But if the girl can play at that level, they should be playing there … Whether it’s girls or boys, if the kids are good enough, the coaches should be seeking them out.”

James concluded by saying: “The politics of sports will always be there no matter what. You run into people who are still opposed to girls being in the game and there are a lot of parents who still feel threatened by women in hockey.

“It’s an ongoing battle for us to make our place.”

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