NHLCA launches program to address opportunity gap for female coaches

Women's-hockey

Fans celebrate a goal by the Markham Thunder as they face the Kunlun Red Star during the Clarkson Cup final in CWHL hockey action in Toronto on Sunday, March 25, 2018. (Chris Donovan / CP)

It is telling that there isn’t a female among the 200 people employed as head, associate, assistant, video or goalie coaches in the NHL.

The membership of the NHL Coaches’ Association consists of just one gender as a result.

So, in announcing the creation of the Female Coaches Development Program to coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday, the association is taking on a leadership role in helping change that dynamic. The program isn’t expressly designed to help a woman land one of those jobs with an NHL team, but it is a nod to the opportunity gap that’s prevented it from happening organically.

The initiative will see 50 female hockey coaches selected from across North America for the first year, and supported with tools to help them in areas ranging from skills development to leadership and communication strategies to networking and career advancement.

“Female coaches are a critical component of supporting the growth of hockey at the grassroots level, and it is essential to the game to diversify the current pool of hockey coaches,” said Lindsay Artkin, the NHLCA’s president. “We intend for this program to be an impactful step forward in doing so.”

Even though a handful of women have been hired by NHL teams to work as skills or skating coaches, hockey is lagging behind the other major North American sports.

There are currently 12 female assistant coaches working full-time for NBA teams — most of them hired within the last two years — and seven women employed in coaching positions in the NFL. In January, Alyssa Nakken became the first female coach employed on a major league baseball staff when she was hired by the San Francisco Giants to work as an assistant to manager Gabe Kapler.

That’s why the NHLCA’s new program is so significant.

It will open the door for female coaches to participate in mentorship and job shadowing events led by NHL coaches, while also providing them with digital support tools and resources. A core objective of the program is to give participants the chance to grow their own network of coaching allies within their communities.

“Our research suggests there are three critical elements to accelerating the growth of girls hockey: access to inclusive programming in early childhood, casual and aspirational pathways in hockey development, and quality female coaching and role models along that journey,” said Kim Davis, the NHL’s executive vice-president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.

“We can close the gender gap in hockey with the right partnerships and strategies, and this NHLCA Female Coaches Development Program is advancing equity in a way that will produce dividends for the sport long-term.”

While the NHLCA has primarily existed to support NHL coaches with everything non-hockey-related in their jobs — such as health benefits, pension, salary, and green card and immigration issues — it is starting to place a higher priority on helping develop coaches at all levels of the sport.

The association launched a mentorship pilot program this season for coaches in the AHL, ECHL, NCAA, USHL and European leagues, and is taking another step with the creation of the Female Coaches Development Program.

That initiative will officially kick-off during the NHL’s draft weekend in June and run through the 2020-21 season.

“It is truly inspiring to see the passion our coaches have in taking time to support the development of other coaches and give back to the communities from which they themselves first started coaching,” said Artkin. “The potential for this program to grow in the years ahead is unlimited.”

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