Q: Should my daughter play for a girls team or a youth team?
A: It’s an important question many parents ask, and the answer varies depending on several factors.
USA Hockey offers both a girls classification (open to females only) and a youth classification (open to males and females) because it’s important to offer female players the choice of playing on an all-girls team or a youth team.
Consider the following questions to help guide the decision for you and your daughter.
- What is your daughter’s preference? Don’t assume. It’s important to ask her and to give due consideration to her choice.
- 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?
- Is your teenage daughter fixating or worrying excessively about the body-checking aspect of youth hockey at 14U and above? If so, then it’s time to ask if she wants to switch to girls hockey.
Potential Benefits of Playing Girls Hockey
- Female peers. Girls are social beings and your daughter may have more fun playing with female peers from a social standpoint. Fun matters.
- Heightened focus on female needs. More all-girls clubs than ever are offering age-appropriate, age-specific programming, and a girls team or association will likely have hockey directors, managers and coaches focused on the specific needs of female players.
- Female coaches. Associations with girls teams may recruit female coaches and some girls might feel more comfortable with a female coach. This also extends to student coaches. Often, all-girls associations will have access to 16U or 19U female players who serve as student assistant coaches for younger girls’ teams. It can be empowering for a young girl to interact with these female role models.
- Introduction to the girls game. In associations with girls teams, female players will be exposed to the overall level and style of play intrinsic to the girls game, giving them a clearer sense of the level they can achieve at subsequent steps on the development ladder, including college and beyond.
Potential Benefits of Playing Youth Hockey
- Age-appropriate teams in regions where they might not otherwise be available. While female participation numbers have increased nationwide, some geographic areas have insufficient female participation to create age-appropriate, age-specific all-girls teams. Playing with an age-appropriate youth team helps avoid issues that plague teams composed of players with widely varying ages, skill levels and overall player development progress that can lead to frustration for your daughter.
- Closer to home. Development happens at the rink, not in the car. There are more youth teams than girls teams, so playing for a youth team may provide greater access to local competition. If playing for a girls team means you must drive farther to practices and games than you would have to for a youth team, then playing with the youth team might be a better option.
- Depth of talent. The caliber of play might be better in youth hockey because of sheer numbers, leading to more competitive practices and games.
- Physiological capabilities. There are very few physiological differences between boys and girls between the ages of 0-12. Prior to the full onset of puberty, there is no gender-based physiological reason to separate boys and girls in sport competition. Girls also reach puberty earlier than boys, on average, so they may be slightly taller and stronger than the average prepubescent boy.
Additional Insights from the Women’s Sports Foundation
With its mission to advance the lives of girls and women through sport and physical activity, the Women’s Sports Foundation published the following guidance on the topic of girls playing with boys:
- Prior to puberty, females and males can easily compete with and against each other on coeducational teams. In fact, research demonstrates that girls who participate with boys in youth sports are more resilient. Competition groupings should be organized by skill and experience. Girls and boys possessing similar skills benefit from playing with and against each other.
- Allowing girls to compete on boys teams does not have an adverse impact on girls teams. Opening boys teams to girls should not be viewed as a loss of participation for girls teams, but rather a broadening of opportunities for girls to compete that will only serve to expand the overall participation and growth of girls in sports.
- Denying girls the choice of playing on youth/coeducational teams restricts girls’ participation because it denies them the right to choose which particular competition is most appropriate for their ability.