Life lessons from Co-Ed Hockey

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She started playing hockey with the boys when she was only four. She's fifteen now and last year she committed to play varsity hockey for the elite Colgate University. 

I met her when she was doing stick tricks in the alley behind our house when she was eleven. She’s the kind of kid who masters any sport she tries because of her natural athleticism. She’s also got a kind nature and stands out for her humility. My own eleven year-old daughter was instantly drawn to her and they spent the summer shooting hoops and playing street hockey.

For some time, I have wanted to talk to Katie about her time playing with boys. I wondered how her parents made this decision when she was only 4? If you watch the video footage of that time in our interview you will see that even then, Katie out skated every boy on the ice and I assumed the choice was made to support her athletic development.

When I asked Katie's mom about it she said the decision was based on Katie having more friends who were boys than girls. They had more in common. Katie wasn't a Disney princess kind of a kid. This made sense to me. I had one of these daughters too, but it didn’t ever occur to us to put her on a co-ed or boys team. Looking back, she would have been much happier socially playing soccer and eventually hockey with her friends who were boys. She still plays basketball with boys every chance she gets. What brings them together is their common love of the sport - not their gender.

Despite the friendships on her teams, Katie describes a sometimes rough road. At times she felt left out and had to work hard to prove herself and earn respect. I wonder how much of this is a societal construct vs. what happens between the kids. 

Last year I watched a great Ted Talk produced by a youth athlete in our community and her dad. It addressed this subject and hypothesized that gender-specific teams are more about the comfort of parents than the optimal athletic development of the children. I agree with this.

A few years ago I had the chance to watch the great Christine Sinclair play on the National Women’s Soccer Team in an exhibition match against a men’s university team. Our soccer coach at the time had explained that the women liked to play against the men to develop more assertive, physical play and the men liked to play against the women to experience their team work and play-making ability. Both teams recognized that it’s their differences that make them stronger. 

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Increased socialization rather than marginalization between boys and girls at a young age is crucial to developing respect and understanding. The current culture sadly continues to focus on superiority and inferiority between the sexes when it comes to sport. Compensation inequity in professional sports and sexist attitudes like we saw highlighted this week when a reporter asked Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg if she could twerk reflect this. 

Katie is very happy that she had the opportunity to grow up playing with boys. In our interview she describes how it has shaped who she is as an athlete and a person. And, there’s no question that she is a wonderful person and a very talented and skilled athlete.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. It’s complicated - let’s start a conversation. Please comment below.

Nadia KybaComment