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Girls Playing Boy's Hockey: No Easy Answers

One of the questions I often get as I travel the country is "When, if ever, should girls play boy's hockey?"  Usually, my answer is to make the switch if it is the right decision for the athlete.

Playing with boys: pros and cons

Although no two situations are exactly alike, my personal opinion is that if your daughter's goals are to play in the Olympics or to get a scholarship from an NCAA Division One school some day, playing boy's hockey for as long as she can is to her advantage, because boy's hockey is much more competitive. Boy's hockey is more competitive than girl's hockey just by virtue of the fact that boys tend to be naturally more competitive than girls (especially when they are competing against a girl!). Thus, girls who choose to play boy's hockey are going to be pushed more on a day-to-day basis, and that is naturally going to make them stronger hockey players.

I played boy's hockey from age 7 until I switched at the age of 14 to girl's hockey. But I made the switch primarily for academic reasons. When I was growing up in California, I didn't have the option of playing girl's hockey. There were no high school teams, period. When I found out that I could attend a prep school on the east coast and play girl's hockey, I made the switch so that I could get a great education, not to play girl's hockey. I probably could have continued to play boy's hockey through high school and then made the switch to women's hockey in college.

A key point for parents to understand, however, is that if at any time your daughter starts to become intimidated by the size and strength of the boys around her, it is time to switch to playing with girls. Around the age of puberty is when I tend to notice more girls making the switch to girl's hockey because it is at that point that boys start to become much more physical and stronger than girls; because body checking is allowed for boys, that size and strength advantage can intimidate a girl. If your girl is not intimidated, I would encourage her to keep playing with boys as long as she still enjoys it.

The one drawback to continuing to play boy's hockey in high school is that it makes it harder for her to be seen by college coaches and recruiters because coaches tend to flock to the girl's tournaments. Thus, you may have to be a lot more proactive during her junior and senior years in high school to make sure that she is on their radar screen. This means notifying schools when your child is playing in the area of the schools she is interested in, or sending a highlight video to the schools she wants to attend.

Playing with girls: pros and cons

There is also a case to be made for playing girl's hockey. There is naturally more camaraderie within a girl's team. If your daughter's goals are to have fun, stay in shape, develop her skills in the women's game, where checking is not allowed, and potentially get more ice time, then girl's hockey may be best for her. Take the example of the girl who plays 4th line on a boy's team. She may get to practice with the highly competitive boys every day of the week, but come game time, may only get a few minutes of ice time. That same girl, on a girls team, may get lots of ice time on the first line, power play, and penalty kill, giving her a better chance to develop her individual skills under game conditions than she would playing limited minutes on a boy's team. Remember: puck touches and ice time always equal a better hockey player.

If your daughter is a naturally gifted athlete, make sure she is also a highly motivated player. If she plays girl's hockey, she may need to push herself if the girls around her are not pushing her in practice. You always want to make sure her potential is being reached. Personally, I love playing with the girls. You can act more like yourself on the team and there is nothing like the dancing, singing, and cheering that you experience on a girl's team.

A personal decision

All in all, the decision has to be a personal one. As long as your daughter is developing as a player and enjoying herself, there is no right or wrong answer. Think of her goals and then tailor the decision to meet those goals.