Doerksen boosts women’s role in hockey

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Amy Doerksen has experienced firsthand how difficult it can be to serve as a female hockey coach and administrator.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/05/2021 (552 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Amy Doerksen has experienced firsthand how difficult it can be to serve as a female hockey coach and administrator.

The Brandonite has formed a support group for female hockey coaches on Facebook — Female Hockey Coaching Network — to provide a space where women can connect, ask questions, find out about different opportunities and read curated content on the sport. It was created in late March and has about 50 members, mostly in Manitoba.

“If you’re the sole female in your small town — I have friends who are that person — … they’re different because they’re the only female,” Doerksen said. “Having spaces like this is really important so that they know there are others out there who they can connect with, and other stories of success.”

Submitted Amy Doerksen has launched a Facebook group to help women connect with other women in the hockey world to share experiences and build networks.

Doerksen tries to celebrate the female victories in the sport, which at the highest level include Hayley Wickenheiser being promoted by the Toronto Maple Leafs to senior director of player development, and Hockey Hall of Famer Danielle Goyette being named the team’s director of player development. 

While those are the success stories people hear about, the female experience at rinks and in hockey board rooms at the grassroots level can be very different.

The published author, who works as a business instructor at Assiniboine Community College, recently shared an article online — it can be found at womenshockeylife.com — detailing some of the issues she’s seen in the sport. 

They range from feeling like an outcast at her first Hockey Brandon board meeting to a story where the female head coach of a small-town hockey team was expected to serve volunteer duty in the canteen while her husband, who also coached, was excused from that duty.

Other female coaches of boys teams are expected to step aside once the players hit puberty, but that isn’t a priority with male coaches in the female game.

“A lot of women commented and it was posted on their Facebook page and a lot of women started to share their own experiences,” Doerksen said. “The majority of the comments were not positive but there are some that were good. This is not a universal experience, but having a space where you can go and you can talk about it and connect with people to mentor them through things and provide them with encouragement and support, that’s a really big part.”

There could be a couple of reasons for the problems woman face in the game. It may be that the hockey community simply hasn’t caught up to the wave of female coaches now in the game, and forgets to include them in conversations at the rink and acknowledge them at the board table.

Perhaps, more discouragingly, it could be an inherent gender bias in the game.

Doerksen, who sits on the Hockey Brandon board, serves as U7 co-ordinator and coaches, prefers to think it’s the former.

“Do I think that, as an example, an association will say ‘We don’t want any female applicants?’” Doerksen said. “I don’t think that. I don’t want to think that. But are they doing everything they can proactively to try to get the message out to women? I don’t think so. I don’t feel they are.”

That’s where Doerksen’s network could come into play. It’s designed to let women know what opportunities exist, and also to allow women to recruit other women for teams.

That played out when Hockey Brandon recently announced its under-15 AAA girls team that will start up next fall. Doerksen had coached with Karissa Kirkup earlier and liked everything she brought to the rink, so Kirkup was recruited and hired to take over the U15 team, with Amanda Coey as assistant coach.

Doerksen will serve as program support for the club.

“I made a concerted effort last fall to try to only coach with other women because we need more women on the ice,” Doerksen said. “I wanted to lead by example so I reached within my network and obviously Karissa had tons of talent. She will be amazing coaching at a AAA level.

“You have to acknowledge that we need more diversity here, we need more women here.”

She said simply asking for resumes isn’t enough. Women have to be made to feel welcome in the overwhelmingly male environment.

Doerksen said the barriers to entry include women simply not knowing when coaching positions are available. Another is that the few women who do serve are vastly outnumbered by men.

“If you’re in the know, you know about all those opportunities that come up,” Doerksen said. “All those other people who could be fantastic never get a chance to hear. To me, that’s a broken system.”

In other instances, women are recruited to serve a token “mom” role on the bench rather than empowered to provide more valuable input.

Doerksen, who played for the University of Manitoba Bisons, thinks men can play a key role in women finding their way. In her first time coaching, which took place 20 years ago in Kenora, Ont., she had such a positive experience with three male coaches that it stays with her two decades later.

“What they did for me is they empowered me. They saw the value that I brought being a female who has played at a high level. Several of the players aspired to play university or college and them empowered me to run the defensive end,” Doerksen said.

She was able to run drills in practice, and on the bench, her choice of which players she put on the ice was never questioned.

“I really appreciate that because it was a great first experience for coaching,” Doerksen said. “My worry is women who have the opposite experience and never want to go back.”

While Doerksen is tackling the issue from a respectful place, it’s not an easy discussion.

Thoughtful men will try to be better after hearing her concerns, but there is a reactive element in the game who will simply disregard everything she says. 

And those are the people who could make it difficult for her after she rocks the boat.

“Me talking about this is an intimidating thing because women can face backlash for speaking out,” Doerksen said. “Some of the women who reached out to me after I wrote the article said ‘I’m afraid to talk about what’s happening because what about my kids who are coming up in the system?’ or ‘I might not be able to ever coach again.’

“I think what I see is very similar to what I sometimes see in business as well. Women hit a glass ceiling. We need to think more broadly about actively engaging women.”

Doerksen, who was born in Winnipeg but grew up for several years in Brandon, expects that will change over time. The key might be as simple as seeing more women on the ice and involved in administration, which will require boards to understand the issues and focus on recruitment.

“It’s becoming aware of what some of these challenges are and becoming aware of the importance of really making an effort and really trying to build these connections,” Doerksen said. “Then you’ll see more. In the article I said, ‘See it, be it.’ The more women you see on the ice, the more comfortable other women will get in saying I can do that too.”

Doerksen urges any women who are interested in coaching to reach out to her. She plays the game with a group of women, many of whom have youngsters who will soon be entering the minor hockey system.

“I’m so hopeful that I can recruit some of them to come out on the ice and try it out,” Doerksen said. “If you’re interested in coaching, reach out, ask questions. There are people like me and others who are willing to mentor you, to support you, to answer your questions. 

“You have support.”

» pbergson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @PerryBergson

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