As many people celebrated Dawn Braid being hired by the Arizona Coyotes as their full-time skating coach, Caroline Ouellette brought forth interesting point: women can help grow the women’s game and that is a very valid option for them, even after retirement from playing. The idea that making it in a men’s league is better than making it in a women’s league does a disservice to women’s sports and does not help move them forward because there the idea that men’s sports are more valid than women’s sports which is empirically not true.
For years female athletes have been compared to men to their own detriment. “Will we ever see another female in the NHL?” is a common question even though Manon Rheaume played in an exhibition game in 1992. It shouldn’t be. Females should be compared to other females when it comes to their athletic accomplishments unless their sport as a whole competes in one, non-gendered division. For years women were not allowed to compete in sports, so why should we hold them to a standard of comparing them to men when they have their own reasons for playing sports in the league they choose.
If you have watched either of the past two summer Olympics and you are Canadian, the name Christine Sinclair would ring a bell for you. She is Canada’s best soccer player ever. This does not need to be validated by saying she should play on the men’s team nor does she need to have the addition of the word female to justify this title. She is the best and that is enough. Being female has meant that she was part of a group that laid the groundwork for the success of current young players on Team Canada simply by playing on a team when there were not many supporters of the program.
It should not come as a surprise that many think that coaches of female teams and athletes would automatically want to coach male teams and athletes because there is more prestige in it. This does a massive disservice to sport as a whole. If all the best coaches only ever coach males, how will females ever move up in the sporting hierarchy? In sport it is vital that the success at one gender does not come at the cost of the other. It is important that everyone learns that the success of men is not more important than the success of women and therefore all the best coaches must be able to coach the gender they prefer and not one that brings more fame or glory.
Coaches are a vital part of a team’s success. Coaching females is no less important than coaching males, yet there are often comments about when the coach of a successful women’s team will go coach men. This is implying that somehow finding success coaching women is less than finding the same success coaching men. Granted because there are generally fewer countries that invest in women’s sports there is a smaller competition pool, but that does not mean that there is any less meaning when you win one of three Olympic medals or win your league for the year. To accomplish those tasks the right tactics have to be used, correct player usage must be achieved and everything must work out just right (remember the goal post in Sochi?). The idea that winning while coaching women instead of men is any less impressive ignores the fact that it takes a lot of work to win, even when the competition pool is shallower.
What women’s sports needs more of is not striving to make it to men’s leagues, but to be equal to them. For some women playing/coaching/working in a men’s league is the best option for them at the moment and that is just fine because moving sport forward should not be put before your own ability to develop to your maximum potential in your role.
Women do not need to be validated as athletes by showing they can compete against men. Coaches who coach women for most or all of their coaching careers do not need to be validated by showing they can coach men. Women’s sports need to have ardent supporters who will work within the system to strengthen the game for them. This does not mean that they have to work exclusively within the female system. Hayley Wickenheiser has both played in a men’s league and worked to grow the women’s game world-wide. It is not a singular, one-track, support the women’s game only and never try to challenge yourself or refuse all offers from men’s leagues for reasons unknown. Instead, it is something that happens organically.
The key to grow the women’s game is to not degrade the product of a system that has long been held back by biases while also honouring the fact that in order to improve some players have to find higher levels of competition than what is offered to them while playing women’s sports. As time goes on the level of competition should rise as more and more females get involved in playing and push each other to achieve more. Women’s sport is not there yet.
Celebrate women who make it in men’s leagues. Understand that what they are doing is great, but do not use their successes to invalidate those who elect to stay within the realm of female sports. They have their own reasons and their success is no less great than that of someone who achieves success working in men’s sports.