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12U Q-and-A: Playing with the Boys

01/02/2018, 2:45pm MST
By Emily West

Q: When should my daughter transition from playing on a boys team to an all-girls team?

A: Typically, this question starts to arise as the female hockey player gets closer to the age where body-checking is introduced in youth hockey. There are many factors to consider in trying to answer this question. Some are on-ice considerations, some are social and some are financial or logistical. But above all, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all right or wrong answer to this question, as every female hockey player’s path will be different. Combining my own personal playing and coaching experiences with research on the topic, here are my thoughts:

One fact we know is that female athletes develop earlier than males. They will have size on their side earlier as they will enter the highest point of their adolescent growth spurt (Peak Height Velocity) around 12 years of age (see chart at right). This plays a role in the hockey decision, as male athletes usually start reaching PHV around the age of 14 or 15 and eventually catch up with (or in some cases, surpass) the female athletes in height.

In the 12U age classification, many parents and players begin thinking often about the body contact, body-checking and physical side of the game coming at 14U. Sometimes it becomes such a prominent, consistent thought process that people forget to consider the mental side of what may take place. As soon as the female hockey player is more mentally concerned about the physicality of the sport then her actual play and development, that is when a conversation needs to happen and consideration should be given to switching to all-girls hockey. But sometimes parents automatically jump to the conclusion that their daughter needs to switch without having the conversation. When they actually ask their daughter, “Do you want to continue playing boys hockey?” or “Is the physical side of the game affecting you mentally?” she is often quick to reply that it doesn't bother her and she would like to continue playing with boys. In other situations, when those questions are asked, girls may say they want to make the switch to an all-girls team. The point is, it’s important to ask the questions and have a two-way conversation before any decisions are made.

Every female hockey player is different. There will be some female players who play with boys the majority of their youth hockey career. There will be some female players who play with girls the majority of their youth hockey career. There may be some female players that bounce around between boys and girls hockey. For all of our athletes, development is our primary focus. If a female hockey player is comfortable with her long-term development trajectory, it does not matter which path she takes as long as she is going forward, getting better, and growing her love of the game.

Ultimately, being in the optimal development environment is the best place for your daughter. Whether that environment is comprised of boys and girls or girls only is just one element of many that help determine what is “optimal.” Rather than making it simply a question of boys or girls, factor the following questions into the decision:

  • In which atmosphere will your daughter thrive both athletically and socially, and as a result, have the most fun playing hockey?
  • Which program has a better coaching and player development philosophy? Programs that follow USA Hockey’s American Development Model deliver age-appropriate, age-specific training and competition designed to help athletes reach their full long-term potential.
  • Which program emphasizes individual skill development and allocates training time and instruction accordingly?
  • Which program offers a developmentally appropriate practice-to-game ratio?
  • Which program will continually challenge your daughter and allow her to improve?
  • Which team offers the appropriate level of competition and playing time based on her abilities?
  • Are the coaches aware of sensitive windows of trainability and do they take advantage of those windows with age-specific training?
  • Which program will introduce your daughter to age-appropriate strength training and conditioning?
  • How are the coaches’ motivation and communication skills?
  • Which team offers your daughter more on-ice and off-ice leadership and mentoring opportunities?
  • Which program offers the most on-ice and off-ice development for your dollar?
  • How far would you have to travel for practices and games?
  • Which program is focused on developing players as opposed to chasing trophies?

The author, Emily West, attended the University of Minnesota, where she was a two-time captain of the Golden Gophers and a Patty Kazmaier Award nominee. She helped the Gophers win two conference titles and a national championship.

Peak Height Velocity Diagram

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