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Should Males and Females Be Coached Differently?

By USA Hockey, 05/01/20, 10:15AM MDT


The USA Hockey Coaching Education Program recently released the Coaching Female Hockey Players Manual to address this and many other questions surrounding the similarities and differences between male and female athletes. Loaded with research, expert sourcing and testimonial, this book covers everything from nutrition, off-ice training, social norms and stereotypes, brain development and much more.

Read the full Coaching Female Hockey Players Manual here.

We sat down with two co-authors of the manual, USA Hockey Coaching Education Program Manager Brent Seidel and USA Hockey ADM Manager of Female Hockey Kristen Wright, to discuss their findings and why this is a critical tool for coaches, parents and administrators.

USA Hockey: Why was this important for USA Hockey to put together?

Brent Seidel: It was made because there’s this speculation, especially if you’re a coach moving into the female hockey realm, or if you happen to have a female on your youth team, that they need to be coached differently because of what society thinks of boys and girls. Boys and girls shouldn’t be coached differently, especially before puberty. They’re the same exact mold. Their athleticism, their muscles, their mind — it’s almost identical. The only real reason they get treated any differently is because of the way our society is. We wanted to take an in-depth look and show what really is different, if anything. From the research we did and the professionals we talked to, there seems to be more similarities than differences. We just really wanted to hammer this home that when you’re running practices and training these athletes, they should be trained the same.

Coaching Female Players

Kristen Wright: Historically we had mandatory coach education modules online. At the beginning of their registration, if the coach checked that they are coaching female athletes, they had to take it as part of their coaches education training. We found that as time goes on and additional information becomes available, that became a little outdated and needed to be updated. We thought a manual would be a much more acceptable way to provide more information to our coaches, parents and administrators, versus being only in the coach education modules.

We need to treat our male and female athletes very similarly all the way up to puberty. How we socialize our athletes is actually more detrimental to their ability to gain physical literacy and confidence than their actual gender. We strongly believe our coaches need to be knowledgeable in what happens to females during puberty and how that differs from a male athlete — those influxes of different hormones and how that’s going to affect their ability to build strength and injury potential for female athletes. We want to provide our coaches with this information so they can be the best coaches possible.

USA Hockey: The manual addresses many female stereotypes society has, especially when it comes to athletics. What do you want coaches to take away from this?

Brent Seidel: We’re trying to help the coach understand that you have to get to know your players individually. That’s a really big deal. You may have a really soft-hearted girl and you may have a soft-hearted boy. You may have a really hard-hearted boy and a hard-hearted girl. It really depends on where that kid is growing up, where that kid has been playing, what their family and school life is like. We really want those coaches to understand that it’s getting to know your players on an individual basis because it’s different for all of them.

Kristen Wright: It’s more societal than anything — more so than coaches — of just how we socialize our kids. I think there’s been a lot of progression in that. I think coaches are actually some of the people that are most in tune with that, but at the same time it’s something we need to be aware of. There’s a lot of information on the physical literacy guide on showing how males and females technically have the same abilities, but because of the opportunities we’ve given them to become athletes, it could actually be more detrimental.

USA Hockey: What do coaches of female athletes need to know about the onset of puberty? 

Kristen Wright: It’s important for coaches to understand that in general females go through puberty sooner than their male counterparts, but at the same time, how women go through puberty and how that affects their bodies. Having a period and how that affects their athletic abilities as well are just things we want coaches to be aware of, especially coaching 12- to 18-year-old athletes. The changes in their body are important to be aware of. The biggest difference would be that there’s this large influx of testosterone that happens on the male side, whereas the females have an influx of multiple different hormones that come in at different points in time during a month. It’s a different experience and a coach may not be familiar with that and may not even be familiar with it of their own gender.

USA Hockey: Since body checking is not allowed in female hockey, do coaches need to teach body contact? 

Kristen Wright: Body contact, by definition itself, implies that the athletes are going to bump into each other even if there’s no body checking. It’s extremely important for all of our athletes, male and female, to have body contact taught to them within all of the age classifications, including 6U, 8U, 10U, 12U and so on. Where we lose out on a little bit of the education for our female players is when a coach doesn’t think that they need to know how to body check because the classification of girls doesn’t allow body checking. We think it’s important for girls to understand the difference between a legal body check and legal body contact so they are aware of where the line is. As we all know, there’s tripping in games, there’s body checking penalties in games — it’s going to happen and even though it’s not legal, we want them to have the confidence and the knowledge of how to put themselves in a safe position with their body, but also to gain a competitive advantage in tough battles. To prepare our athletes for the next level, they need to be taught and provided opportunities for repetition to learn confidence and body contact on the boards, in the center of the ice, against opponents in all of those situations.

Brent Seidel: There’s a high amount of body contact in the female game. Anybody that’s ever seen the U.S.-Canada gold-medal games, you can see that there’s heavy body contact. Is it body-checking? No, but there’s body contact. They’re running into each other. They’re rubbing out and trying to gain possession of the puck — that’s the sport of hockey. We at USA Hockey want coaches teaching body contact at the youngest ages. We shouldn’t train boys and girls any differently when it comes to body contact, especially at the 12 and Under levels.

Read the age-appropriate body contact and body checking skills manual from USA Hockey here: Checking the Right Way in Youth Hockey.

Declaration of Player Safety

Body Contact Manual

USA Hockey: Does gender of the coach matter? 

Kristen Wright: I don’t think it matters as long as the coach is the best coach for that team at that age level. We want our coaches to be knowledgeable about the players that they’re coaching and have the knowledge of the ADM and what’s developmentally appropriate for the kids, male or female. We do want to get as many females involved in coaching both boys and girls as much as possible. There are numerous studies that cite the benefits of having female coaches but there are obstacles that make it difficult for women to reach those positions. Here are some tips on how to be proactive to get more women involved. Players benefit from having coaches of both genders, just like they benefit from having teachers of both genders. It provides an additional platform and environment for kids to learn and grow in. At the end of the day, it is important for us to take an active role in involving women in coaching and leadership roles. 

Brent Seidel: We have a little piece in the manual where we ask a couple current U.S. Women’s National Team players if the sex or gender of the coach matters. In the book you can see that it doesn’t matter to them. They want a coach that’s going to be respectable. They want a coach that’s going to teach them what they need to know and not hold back. To them, it didn’t matter. Then there’s the hockey director part of the manual, the Q-and-A at the back of the book, where we talk to a hockey director and asked a similar question. She said that she tries to get at least one female on staff, but usually that female is an alumni, so there’s a lot of relating back and forth.

USA Hockey: What else should coaches check out in this manual? What do you hope really sticks with them?

Kristen Wright: There’s some awesome resources in the appendix. The Girl-Centered Environment Checklist is a great resource for coaches and administrators, just to make sure they are creating an environment that’s welcoming to female players. I think we overlook some of the small details sometimes when it comes to having pictures of female role models in the rink when the girls team is there. Whether it’s posters of female athletes or providing videos to your program of U.S. Women’s National Team players or making sure they have access to things that they may need that are a little bit different than their male counterparts — sports bras, what’s available in the bathroom, things of that sort. That’s a great resource for people to just make sure that they’re setting up the environment for success and to keep girls in the game, especially at the older age levels.

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