Over the past 3 years, I have run dozens of elite player development camps with teams and players from all across North America. In these full-day camps, we go on the ice for skills sessions and on-ice testing, we do off-ice fitness testing and go through off-ice speed and strength training, as well as workshops on hockey-specific performance nutrition, goal setting and how to get noticed and recruited by women’s college hockey teams. By the end of the camp, the entire group been assessed, they know what they need to improve on and they have the resources that will help them take their performance to the next level. I truly believe every girls hockey players deserves the same level of access and the opportunity to learn exactly what it takes to become an elite female hockey player. But they don’t have it – yet.
The truth is that we are not doing a very good job of developing elite female hockey players in North America. Sure, we’ve won all the gold medals and continue to dominate on the world stage, but much of this success can be attributed to the sheer number of girls playing the game and the opportunity to compete and train against the “best” on a consistent basis. But are we really giving all girls hockey players in North America access to the opportunity to reach all of their hockey dreams?
For the most part, we rely on a very Darwinistic approach when it comes to player development. We have far more girls playing and the “cream of the crop” naturally rises to the top. When this top 3% of players between the ages of 14-18 emerge, we give them access to the resources they need to make it to the elite level.
But what about everyone else? Why are only the “best” given the information and the opportunity? It is irresponsible and unfair for us to cater only the “elite” players.
I recognize that not every girls hockey player in North America aspires to play women’s college hockey or make the Olympic team. But there are many who do who don’t make the “right” team or are not from an association, team or area that has the access to development resources both on and off the ice. Are we really giving players who aren’t “elite” quite yet the opportunity to move on to the highest levels of female hockey? I always tell players to, “Work Hard and Dream BIG”, but the truth is that those 2 things are not enough to make you a great player. You need to have access to the resources that will allow you to get there and be able to put together your plan to get you where you want to be.
I am not exactly sure what the answer is to this problem. We can’t clone elite coaches, mass produce elite teams so that every girl has the chance to see what elite level girls hockey really looks like, or invite them all to selection camps that run across North America every spring and summer.
But we can empower them with information. We can let them know exactly what it takes to get to that elite level and allow them to make the decision as to whether they want to pursue those dreams. That is how we will create a culture of excellence in women’s hockey – where every girl has the opportunity to fulfill her dreams. I truly believe that this type of widespread education and empowerment in girls hockey is not only possible, but absolutely necessary.