The great debate: Should girls play on boys or girls teams?


The boys Bantam AA USA Hockey Club team sprawls after winning Nationals in April with two girls who were mainstays: Sasha Hartje, far left in back, and goalie Kate Froling, third from the right on the ice. The two will now make the jump to Girls hockey with the 16U USA Hockey Development Program of Michigan.

The Great Debate: Should Girls Play on a Boys or Girls Team?

By: Alexis Bohlinger; Hockey Weekly

There are two schools of thought on the question of: “Should my daughter play on a girls team or on a boys team?”
A number of female players, parents, coaches and hockey aficionados argue that girls should start their careers playing on a girls team. There are also people who believe that growing up playing with the boys is the best way to speed up their development.

Hockey Weekly was determined to get to the bottom of this dilemma and talked to many members of the hockey community. Each was honest enough to present their feelings and share their experiences in an attempt to guide future female hockey players on the right path.

“Girls five or 10 years ago did not have the opportunities that they have now,” said Royal Oak Boys High School coach Craig Ward. “Parents of new players think that the only option for their daughter is to roster them on a boys team.”
Ward is currently experiencing the issue as a parent with his 7-year-old daughter, Macy.
Not being aware of the various avenues for female hockey players, Ward signed Macy up for a boys House team.
“She was a little uncomfortable with the boys from the beginning,” Ward said. “She always wanted to get dressed at home.”
Knowing that his daughter would not flourish playing with boys, Ward immediately began to research other options. He found that there were beginner hockey leagues for girls only and also Travel hockey leagues that would fit his daughter’s skill level.
“I signed her up for the 10U Wildflowers Girls team and, so far, she has loved every moment of it mostly because of the camaraderie,” he said.
Ward believes that the interaction amongst the girls is one of the most important factors for a young lady to have in order to gain confidence and learn the game.
He also added: “You are only as good as your coaching.”
Ward believes a big part of getting the girls to work hard and have fun is motivating them in the right ways. He told Hockey Weekly that he believes associations are appointing more qualified coaches to work with girls teams than they have in the past.
Michigan Amateur Hockey Association District 4 Director Kim Gearns, a member of the Kensington Valley Hockey Associa-tion, also believes that appointing the right coach can make a great female player.
“What people need to understand is that motivating girls is different than motivating young men,” Gearns said. “I’ve seen people try to coach girls teams like they coach boys teams and, it does not work because girls learn differently.”
Gearns has observed from coaching boys and girls teams that girls are more strategic, while boys are driven to accomplish the goal without needing to know why.
“Girls ask more questions and they are more cognitive at a younger age,” she said.
Another reason Gearns believes that young girls should start learning the game right away from a girls point of view is because girls learn to angle and use their bodies differently.
“It’s a different mentality in girls hockey,” Gearns said. “I think girls are more focused on the end goal, which is playing the body to manipulate a play to gain the offensive zone. It’s more strategic than just landing a big hit.”
Regardless of her strong feelings, however, Gearns believes there are a small percentage of girls who do well on boys teams.
“I’m not sure what qualities these young ladies possess but, for the most part, the girls that are highly skilled tend to yield to the boys,” she said.
Kevin Hall, hockey father, coach and referee, has supported his daughter, Courtney, through boys hockey until she is now 12 years old.
“I have 12-year-old boy/girl twins and an 8-year old girl. They all play hockey,” Hall said. “Courtney will be moving to girls 14U HoneyBaked this year.”
He added: “The transition should be easy because she has been playing boys during the year and selects hockey with the girls in the off-season. A number of people recommended that we play with the boys as long as we can and sign her up with the girls in the spring to get exposure.”
When Courtney skated with the girls, Hall said that she was one of the strongest skaters on the ice.
“We wanted her to play where she was going to be challenged and learn,” he said.
Courtney found her home on the boys’team and quickly became an asset on the ice.
MAHA District 4 director Kim Gearns says girls are more strategic while boys are driven to accomplish the goal without needing to know why. “Girls ask more questions and they are more cognitive at a younger age,” she said.MAHA District 4 director Kim Gearns says girls are more strategic while boys are driven to accomplish the goal without needing to know why. “Girls ask more questions and they are more cognitive at a younger age,” she said.“If Courtney wasn’t one of the better players (on the team), we would have moved her sooner. You want your kids to play where they are going to have success,” Hall said. “Otherwise it’s like being a fourth liner on a AAA team, which doesn’t help the player.”
Hall gave a possible hint as to why Courtney was successful on a boys team.
“She’s outgoing and not afraid to mix it up, definitely a tom boy.” He said. “She wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress except at her first communion.”
Tod Hartje has two daughters who excelled on boys teams.
Hartje, now an assistant coach with the USA Hockey 16U Girls team, coached the USA Hockey Club Bantam AA team to the 14U Tier 2, 3A USA Hockey national championship and the MAHA Bantam AA state title last season. His daughter Sasha (99) was a member of the team. His other daughter, Elle (01), also plays on a boys team.
Sasha will be moving to the USA Hockey 16U Girls team in 2014-15.
“I feel that having them play for the boys accelerated their development because the level of play and the competition available is superior to what the girls have at that level,” Hartje said. “Playing for this team made her comfortable playing against the fastest boys.”

Sasha was able to play two years of checking which, as a father, worried Hartje a little, but, “It taught her to skate with her head up and to move the puck quickly, or else she would get hit.” Hartje also said that most boys at the Travel level have enough respect to play Sasha like one of the guys.

When asked how the girls interacted on a social level, Hartje replied: “Sasha and Elle’s teams have been together for a long time, so the girls are in a good healthy environment where they mingle and get along with their teammates.”
Hartje fully supports his daughters playing with the boys through Bantam.
“The only downside is that the girls do not get to control the puck as much in boys,” he said. “It will be good for Sasha to round out her game and get the confidence she needs to be a more offensive defenseman.”
Hartje added: “My opinion is that the girls need to play more like boys and be coached more like the boys. They need to be coached to attack the offensive zone and play with more speed. I believe the best girls grew up playing boys hockey.”
Although the opinions above are different, they also represent the many different options that are available to young female hockey players. There is competitive hockey available for girls who want to have the social aspect with their girlfriends and have more female influence and there are also programs that accept girls who just want to play with the boys. It is no secret that people excel more quickly and to their full potential in situations where they feel comfortable enough to learn and grow.
“Girls need to play where they can be the top dog,” said Gearns. “Every young lady is different.”







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