VIERUMÄKI, Finland – At the 2014 IIHF Women’s Hockey Summit representatives from women’s hockey in 15 countries discussed ideas to further develop women’s hockey worldwide, and the road to PyeongChang 2018 and beyond.
The sessions also included several presentations for the audience.
Ph.D. Stephen R. Norris, a British sports and physiology scientist who has been living in Calgary for over 20 years and is Vice-President Sport at WinSport Canada (Canadian Winter Sport Institute), gave his insights about long-term development planning. The main message was that it takes time to develop top athletes and to be realistic about it. The 16- and 17-year-olds of today at the 2014 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp will be at the peak of their career not necessarily in PyeongChang 2018 but rather at the Olympics in 2022. And girls between 8 and 16 years of age may be the stars in 2026.
Johanna Pelkonen of the Finnish Ice Hockey Association presented recruitment and grassroots programs with the example of the Girls’ Hockey Day that has been done in Finland since 2006/2007 and has become part of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend with over 340 events in 31 countries last year. In this period the number of registered female hockey players in Finland more than doubled from 2,500 to 5,500 female players.
Then comes the next step. Reagan Carey from USA Hockey talked about retention in girls’ hockey. “Don’t lose what you already have!” She talked about using cross-ice fields rather than the full ice sheet for the younger ages.
Retention numbers in girls’ hockey in the U.S. runs from 60.2 per cent for the age group U8 to 91.1 per cent for the age group 9-14. Before analyzing the numbers and working on retention, almost half of the girls who tried hockey in the age group U8 left and the numbers for boys were also low.
That was a shock that led to new initiatives. The Try Hockey For Free Days are an important program for USA Hockey to both acquire and retain girls who recently made up for 25 per cent of the participants. The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend is another event in this direction where the focus is specifically on female players.
The “Welcome Back Week” included pre-recorded phone calls and letters of players like Amanda Kessel or Patrick Kane to motivate kids and parents to register.
Jukka Tiikkaja, Head of Coach Education in the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and Programme Director at the HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, educated the participants about the fundamentals of strategy building and that a win or lost game or medal may not necessarily be a reason to keep a strategy or change everything.
Arto Sieppi from the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and Melody Davidson from Hockey Canada presented strategy planning examples.
Sieppi talked about the Olympic cycle. In May 2016 it will be decided which teams are qualified and which have to go through qualification events. That’s when potential players have to be ready and aware that they’re candidates and work on their fitness. His goal for 2017/2018 is a centralization program in the Finnish way as of August 2017 with a full time coaching and support staff. Therefore players have to be aware of all steps two years in advance to be ready, committed and in shape.
Melody Davidson presented the vision of Hockey Canada: “Be a Gold Medal Standard in female hockey in the world by creating excellence in athleticism and leadership on the ice, on the bench, and in communities coast to coast.”
IIHF Sport Manager Aku Nieminen presented data and surveys conducted during the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Opposed to men’s hockey, no significant changes were visible in height or weight of the players but all the more in the quality of the game while being more than satisfied about the organization of the Olympics.
Players saw the quality of the competition and the level of play higher than in any tournament before, which was also shown by the statistical data of the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament with tighter game scores, and that the women’s hockey game with factors like strength, power and talent and factors surrounding it like coaching and facilities have changed for the positive.
The IIHF also presented the Yearly Training Plan Program, which will succeed the Athlete Ambassador and Mentor Coach Program and was supervised by Shelley Coolidge and Norris at the summit. The new program and IIHF funding for mentorship in the female game will now be more tailor-made for every national women’s hockey program’s different needs.
Finding the right people for the right women’s hockey program with people willing, ready and able to execute and evaluate is the goal the national ice hockey bodies will be working on with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The foundation for this was laid with the first drafts or plans during the camp and the goal is again to use the funds to have experts from top countries in women’s hockey, especially from North America, to support women’s hockey in other countries.
In the end the participants presented possible suggestions for the future compiled in different working groups. In the recruitment area it’s a wish to continue and grow the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend but maybe extend it to a recruitment program for coaching and with a follow-up program such as the six-week program in Canada. Also the annual women’s coaching symposium the members like to see continued.
Another recruitment idea is an international long game that will be all over the world for example Team Pink vs. Team Blue with scores to be accumulated from the games at various venues in different countries.
In the finance area the emphasis was on getting more funding from outside the hockey bodies such as Olympic Solidarity, which some nations made use of for the Sochi Olympics and the qualification, but also doing research on funding opportunities from gender equality funds within the nations and international bodies such as the European Union.
In the leadership area participants noted that women’s hockey programs in some countries are driven and highly dependent on the enthusiasm of one single person. To secure sustainability, broader support and leadership recruitment will be needed.
Another recommendation is to find links to and broader support from men’s hockey. A good example was Teemu Selanne supporting the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Finland last year with the very simple but viral mean of posting a photo with holding a paper and wishing the girls fun.
The awareness group sees more women in executive positions needed to better represent women’s hockey and have the possibility of bringing in inputs. Other ideas are a promo video to present a good image of hockey and women’s hockey, celebrities to promote women’s hockey and promotion of women’s hockey in men’s hockey events.
The group discussing about domestic competition sees an urgent need for more players to allow more competition and more divisions appropriate for the different level of talent and ambitions of female players. It was also recommended that women’s hockey clubs should play boys’ teams during international breaks when their best players are away.
In the officiating area one recommendation was an exchange program to give game officials a six-month opportunity to call games in a bigger league.
The participants also discussed about the format of IIHF championships and hope that thanks to the growth of women’s hockey and decreasing discrepancies between the divisions the number of teams could be extended from eight to ten teams as of 2019 for the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and if it works well also for the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament. A ten-team tournament format already exists on the men’s side for the IIHF World Junior Championship and the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship that would require more competition days than the eight-team format.
One other idea was to create a new competition where Canada and the United States would face a Team Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) and a Team Europe (other European countries). A Czech proposal suggests extending the Euro Hockey Tour with invitational tournaments organized by Finland, Germany, Russia and Sweden to a new format that allows more nations to participate.
These and other suggestions will now be reviewed by the IIHF Women’s Committee for future consideration.