Saturday, May 24, 2014

Women's Hockey: Why Harry and Ron neeeded Hermione

Boys will be boys. There aren't many truer statements in the English language. And that statement holds true at any age. Honestly, it's the cutest dynamic to observe a little girl attempt to boss around her older brother. "Don't do that! Mommy's gonna get mad at you!" Equally endearing is to then observe the same dynamic between a couple who has been married for 50 years. "I told you not to do that. You're going to hurt yourself. You're not young anymore you know!?" The best way to look at it is with a Harry Potter reference. Without Harry and Ron, Hermione would have been a bookworm who holed herself up in the library and didn't have much fun in life. The boys showed her how to take some chances and enjoy some adventures. Without Hermione, Harry and Ron's plans to save the magical world from doom would have had major flaws and they'd likely all have been killed.

We've all been there
Men and women are wired differently, which is why both sexes are critical in determining the successes and failures of the world. It is always suprising therefore, when people look at certain tasks or roles and claim that in order for them to be done right they must be done "like a guy" or "like a girl." And if they are done the other way they are considered to have been done wrong. Why? And what does that even mean? "Throw like a girl." "Cook like a guy." We all know that some of the best chefs in the world are men. And we probably all know a few girls who can throw a wicked fastball. It's not about doing a task "like" anyone. It's about doing it in a way that works.

The growth of women's hockey in Canada and worldwide has been a popular issue in the past decade or so. Many people like to ask the question of what it will take to establish and run a successful pro women's league in North America and what it will take to fill the stands, sell tickets and merchandise, and to make that league profitable. Often, these questions are answered through a comparison. It is declared that in order for all of that to happen, female hockey players must be able to play the game like men. Clearly though, the people who say this don't know very much about the differences between men and women. It's not as easy as women skating a little faster or shooting a little harder. What makes the men's pro game so fast and so strong is the attitude and approach of the men who play it. While women are a more calculating and analytical group, men live in the moment. They do things in the moment because it seems right in that moment. They don't often stop to consider consequences because, to them, consequences don't matter. In the moment, men narrow in on one goal and it becomes their chief purpose to achieve it. Apply this principle to hockey and this is how the same play is approached by the different sexes:

There's a loose puck along the end boards and there's a race between two players to see who can get to it first.
Male player: Skate as hard as you can and as fast as you can. Get to that puck first at all costs.
Female player: Skate as hard as you can and as fast as you can...but...the opponent has a step on me and if I push her she'll go flying into the boards and it'll be a dangerous hit, not to mention that I'll probably get a penalty or even a suspension for it so maybe I should either angle her off or let her win the race and then use my body to take her off the puck so she can't set up a scoring play.
That's a lot to compute in just a few seconds. But yeah, the female brain does actually work like that. The concept of consequences is ever-present in the female brain. It doesn't mean we battle any less hard or want to win any less. It just means we approach things a little differently. To get women to play like men is not simply to have them lift more weights until they get stronger. It is to change the genetic imprint of how they are wired. So when people say that women's hockey will not be a marketable product until it is played like NHL hockey, that is to say that women's hockey will never be marketable. One of most gender-equal sports in the world both in terms of prize money and in terms of skill level is tennis. But even the greatest female tennis player in the world - Serena Williams - plays the game differently than Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. She's strong and fast and tactical just like the men but she executes differently. Women's hockey at the highest level, Canada vs USA, and even in the NCAA has shown what a great product it can really be. In an era where the NHL is making headlines for reckless plays that threaten to end players' careers prematurely, there is more and more of an appreciation developing for how the women play the game. The will to compete and to win is equal and there is still an element of growing the game and playing for the right reasons, which doesn't exist in men's pro hockey anymore.

The goals, the passes, and the saves in women's hockey still leave fans gasping in amazement. And the competitiveness and dramatic moments still have us on the edge of our seats. There is no right or wrong way to play hockey. There is a safe and an unsafe way to play it, but not a right or a wrong way. Just as in the NHL, where certain teams prefer to be more defensive-minded while others take more offensive risks, the same can be said for women's hockey. The sport is riding a wave with Canada's Sochi heroics still fresh in everyone's minds. It would be wrong to discredit that and to say that the sport is not yet marketable. When an entire nation comes to a standstill to watch an event unfold, that right there is a marketable sport. We must appreciate women's hockey for what it is and work to establish more teams and more countries that can play at the highest level. We must capitalize on this rather primal place that the sport is in right now because to be part of a period of growth is also to be part of a legacy.