Peter Townsend decided to take a different approach when he began coaching girls. The response was so positive that the Northern Virginia Ice Dogs girls’ hockey director has continued it through what is now the fifth season of all-girls' teams based out of the Mount Vernon Rink in Alexandria, Va.
The NOVA Ice Dogs have grown from one girls’ team to seven in just four years.
“Since we were trying to grow the program, it was all positive reinforcement,” Townsend said of the program’s beginning days. “We were forced to do that because we had a lot of beginners.
“It definitely worked. The girls responded well and there were a lot smiles.”
Townsend, who still coaches boys’ hockey in the spring, readily acknowledges that he now consciously coaches girls and boys differently.
“They [girls] took the instruction better and they improved quicker, relatively,” Townsend said. “It seemed to work and we ran with it.”
The approach has proved successful in ways that can be measured — number of players involved and the results they have produced — and, Townsend believes, in intangibles such as an enjoyable atmosphere that has made both the girls and their parents happy.
This season, the Ice Dogs have an Under-16 girls’ team, two teams each at the U14 and U12 levels and a U10 team playing full schedules. A Mites team will participate in some selected girls’ jamborees. The schedules for those teams vary.
The stronger U12 team plays in both boys’ and girls’ travel leagues. The stronger U14 team will play outside the Washington, D.C. area more often and take aim at trying to qualify for nationals. The U10 team will not travel farther than Pennsylvania.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve created a very positive environment,” Townsend said. “I’ve coached both boys and girls. For the boys, you kind of push by yelling at them. The girls, there is more positive reinforcement and I really think the girls feed off of that.”
The Ice Dogs girls’ program includes additional activities for the players, including some that stretch beyond hockey.
The girls have had clinics with the Tier I Washington Pride girls’ team and with players from the Junior Women’s Hockey League. They skated with students from a Russian hockey school and served as flag bearers at Washington Capitals National Hockey League games.
In the past, the girls in the program had a party with a water slide. On the weekend before Christmas this year, they will have a Christmas party built around all of the teams playing at the rink back-to-back and cheering for each other.
The holiday party is just one way Townsend seeks to keep a connection between the teams.
“Last year, we had a buddy program where we paired older girls with younger girls,” he said. “A player from U14 might have a buddy on a U10 team. The U14 player would watch the U10 game, make a sign and cheer for her and would meet with them and talk to them both before and after the game.”
Townsend has generally found a much better response from the girls since they have had their own program.
“There is a small percentage that would be more confortable and rather play with the boys,” he said. “I have found that most girls like playing with other girls. They have more fun, they play harder and, from a coaching standpoint, they listen better.”
Townsend said he enjoys coaching the girls and gets more feedback from them than the boys he coaches.
The comfort level that has been created has not been a detriment to winning.
The Ice Dogs won the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League U12A regular-season title in 2012-13 after the program won a regular-season and two playoff titles the year before and their first regular-season title in the 2010-11 season. In March, the U12B team won the program’s eighth Pony Tail Tournament title. The U14 team won the New Jersey Rockets Tournament in the 2012-13 season.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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