What are the pros and cons of girls playing boys hockey?

As part of Jocelyn and Monique Lamoureux’s book release, they did a ton of promotion including several podcasts. On one them they Jocelyn Lamoureux mentioned her masters thesis “Should Girls Play Hockey With Boys? Perspectives From The USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team“. For the past several years I have heard many points of view on girls playing boys hockey with some consistent recommendations (mostly “play with the boys as long as you can”). But this was the first time I heard of actual research on the subject. By soliciting data directly from US National Team players, Lamoureux was able to codify the tradeoffs and benefits from choosing to play with boys for a significant portion of their time in youth hockey.

Lamoureux’s conclusion was pretty unanimous: “Out of 15 players, 15 of them recommended that girl’s play with boys, but one player said yes and no depending on what the goals were of the individual playing.”  This doesn’t mean that playing girls-only hockey won’t get you to the national team, it just discusses how playing with the boys helped those that did play with boys. What the research doesn’t cover is if the path to the U.S. National Team is possible from only playing with girls. Thus, if a female player wants to make the national team, they would likely need to ensure that they are still developing the same sets of skills that Lamoureux’s research concluded was key to player success achieved through playing boys hockey.

Based on the research, some additional information I have collected from podcast interviews and my parental experience, here are some thoughts on the key factors for girls playing boys hockey:

Skill Development:  

By playing with boys, girls are likely to develop better key priority hockey skills via several contributing factors:

  • Ice time
  • Level of competition
    • There is some research which shows that during practice boys compete harder and for a longer period of time
    • Playing boys hockey provides more options for a female player to find a team whose skill level is at the right level for the player
  • Coaching
    • In my conversations with former female players, coaches and club directors, the consensus is that “on average” top boys club teams tend to have better coaching in minor hockey. While this is certainly changing and improving on a region-by-region basis, girls coaching is not yet at parity with the boys especially at the early age groups.
girls playing boys hockey

Safety of the Player:

USA Hockey recommends that girls should stop playing with boys when, due to size or speed, the player would be at risk of injury due to full-contact checking.  Not all girls are big enough or have the confidence to play with boys once the boys have hit puberty.  Each player must decide for themselves how long they are comfortable playing with boys from a safety perspective.

Social Development and Team Culture:

From my experience, there is no doubt that the social dynamics for a girl playing with boys is very different than on an all-girls team.  However, the culture on each boy’s team is different and the experience can be both positive and negative from a social development perspective. It really depends on the leadership of the coaching staff and the personalities of the players in the locker room. 

During my conversation with female college coaches who played with boys growing up, they consistently said that the boys on their team treated them pretty well. However, verbal taunts and occasionally “getting run at” by players on the other team was pretty common. So, a female player should be prepared and comfortable with those risks.

College Recruiting:

As noted in a previous post, it is rare for a female player to play college hockey while only playing on boys club or high school teams (other than at national development camps).  So clearly from a recruiting perspective, there is a significant benefit to being scouted by college teams. Coaches rarely attend boys events to watch a single female player.  The advice I have heard from several college coaches is a hybrid, where a female player can play on a boys team as their primary winter season team and either play girls during spring/summer tournaments or, if permitted, double roster on a girls team during the regular season (e.g. play girls AAA and boys high school).

Playing with boys helps, but it is a personal decision

In conclusion, playing on a boy’s team during key developmental minor hockey years appears to provide all the right ingredients for girls to reach their full potential as a hockey player. Depending on where you live, playing with boys could help develop their skills and knowledge of the game more than just playing on the local girl’s team. However, this does not in any way discount that girls can likely achieve the same level of development and success by finding substitute methods of achieving these same skills and knowledge by growing up playing with girls only.