Q: My daughter is turning 11 years old this fall. Should she continue to play co-ed ice hockey or should we find her a girls’ team?
A: There are many factors to consider in this situation. It’s important to remember that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all in this scenario. Most importantly, your aim should be to put your daughter in the best possible social and developmental environment. Every individual is unique, so the best possible environment for one player may be different than for others. And for females, the ideal team dynamic is of heightened importance. Additionally, that ideal dynamic is highly influenced by registration numbers. During the 2012-2013 season, USA Hockey had approximately 50,000 registered female players compared to 300,000 registered male players (between the ages of 4 and 18). This discrepancy obviously effects local programming. As our female membership continues to grow nationwide, associations, administrators and coaches need to offer families both the co-ed and all-female team options.
- What is your daughter’s preference?
- In which atmosphere will your daughter thrive both athletically and socially, and as a result, have the most fun playing the game?
- What program has a better coaching- and player-developmental philosophy?
- Is the head coach following the American Development Model, which is based on age- and gender-appropriate athlete development principles?
- What is the practice-to-game ratio? Does the coach utilize practice ice time well?
- Which program will continually challenge and allow your daughter to improve?
- Is the appropriate amount of time being allocated to skill, sense, and systems training?
- Are the coaches aware of the sensitive windows of trainability?
- Athleticism is the foundation for all skill development. Is the length of the season age-appropriate, allowing your daughter to play other sports besides ice hockey?
- How are the coaches’ motivational and communication skills?
- What are the financial costs and how far do you have to travel to practices and games?
- Overall, is the coach focused on developing players or simply winning youth games and championships?
The most important recommendation is that your daughter play on an age-appropriate team, regardless of whether it’s co-ed or girls-only.
She is only 11 years of age once, and what a 11-year-old needs developmentally and socially is different from a 14-year-old, etc. There is no need to rush her development by “playing up.” In fact, “playing up” can be detrimental to her development in the short and long term.
Being the best player on her current, age-appropriate team is a good thing. It will allow her more puck touches, more opportunity and time to develop her moves against opponents, more confidence to pick her head up while shooting the puck, become a leader-captain, etc.
At the 11-year-old skill-development stage, it’s far more beneficial for her to play a regular shift on a weaker team than to play reduced minutes and a lesser role with a stronger or older team.