BLOG AUTHOR: Mélissa Simard is a Graduate student at Laval University in Québec City, Canada, she studies Sport Sociology which benefits her time volunteering as an Ice Hockey and Soccer Coach. As Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Mélissa strives for gender equality and inclusivity in sport, especially in coaching education. During the hockey off-season, Mélissa enjoys many outdoor activities like hiking and running with her black lab named Bruno! You can also find me on Twitter @CoachMelSimard.
Dear Hockey World,
First of all, I would like to thank you for all the laughs, memories, and lessons you have thought me throughout the many, many years. Hockey has been at the forefront of my life for as long as I can remember. As I grow up and get older, I have changed and thrive to continue to better myself and live by my views and values wholeheartedly. It is getting oh so hard for me to keep doing this while keeping the sport of hockey in my life. It saddens me that this sport I have spent most of my life watching, playing, coaching, reflects almost nothing of which I attempt to preach. As I continue on my journey to speak out against this sport system’s sexism, ageism, racism, classism, (and many more), some of which I have been personally affected by, it is clear to me that I must exit the ice, and loosen up my laces until I can tie them back up again knowing that myself and hockey are in harmony.
Before I go, I have a few words for the current and upcoming coaches, players and board members. But before I get to that, here is a little bit about me…
I grew up surrounded by older kids, peers, and siblings. I am the youngest of three kids and I am the youngest cousin on both sides of my family. So yes, I was always called the “baby” of the family no matter who we were with. My whole life I always wanted to prove that I could fit in or that I could play or join the group even though I was much younger, or a girl. I praise my dad because he always told me and others “just let her join, you’d be surprised”. Even though I was younger, smaller, and the only girl in most cases, I always ended up being able to compete or keep up. I just wanted to play. This desire to be able to keep up or learn quickly has been instilled in me. Throughout my career, I have taken on positions at a young age and
have thrived in them. I am currently the youngest working employee at my association. They have done nothing but embrace that and continue to remind me that my point of view is just as important. Most importantly, they make me feel valued regardless of my age. So, why is it that the position I would qualify for, have the most experience, and have an immense number of positive reviews and community involvement, is the one that shuts me down when I finally feel confident enough to take on the role? Hockey world, I am so disappointed that you were not able to see the value I bring as a Hockey Coach. But from what I have learnt, I will find someone that craves the value I bring to the table, and I will be a highly sought-after valuable Hockey Coach one day.
To the Coaches:
Coaching girls’ minor hockey comes with many highs and lows but no matter the situation, the gift this position leaves you with is incredible. Changing my life for the better and saving me from a state I would never want to go back to but I am thankful for. I am a strong believer that you do not get to appreciate true happiness without feeling great sadness. I could go on about the benefits that come with coaching…. cleaning up your social media presence, early morning weekend practices preventing you from being in a bad place at 2 am, and most importantly falling in love with the sport all over again. Truly seeing a difference and being able to get up early the next morning to be able to coach is a privilege and I have always held myself accountable for showing up ready to bring a positive and upbeat atmosphere to my team. I would take advantage of making 7 am practices more exciting by bringing in alumni so the girls could talk and learn from different female role models other than myself. The girls buying in and saying, “Coach Mel, I am so excited for 7 am practice tomorrow!”. Now, that is a win.
Want to know why I think it’s important to have women on staff at all times? Because a man does not know what it feels like to have a bad hormonal day and be sensitive to any type of pressure. Because a man does not know what it feels like to forget a sports bra and have to run or play in pain throughout a whole practice or game and cannot focus because of feeling self conscious. Because a man does not know what it feels like to start your period by surprise and have to worry about leaking through your equipment because you are unprepared, or you will be seen as a slacker if you ask to go to the washroom. Because a man does not know what it feels like to have back pain because of your breasts, lower abdominal pain because of your period, bad headaches or migraines because of your hormonal cycle. Because a man does not know what it feels like to be a young girl in sport.
I am extremely privileged to be a coach and share my love of hockey with 17 young individuals who have taught me so much about myself and continue to remind me why the sport is so important. Knowing these girls look up to me has made me change many things in my life that have helped me get out of a depressed state. I think very often about that girl who would spend hours and hours in bed and didn’t have anyone expecting her to make it to class or work or anywhere for that matter. Coaching changed my life. Almost 6 times a week, I had 17 kids, 2 coaches, and 34 parents expecting and counting on me to show up to the rink. Accountability is a lot bigger of a word than just the fact of being accountable. It highlights reliability, strong bonds, trust, and for me, a healthy mental state. And if coaching really touches you, you’ll want to show up ready and make all of these 53 people proud. I truly do not believe I would be the same coach I am today if I had not taken care of my mental health the way I did. So, I beg you please, before wanting to volunteer your time coaching young athletes, reflect on your own mental health and evaluate if you are in a good position to be coaching. Kids are a vulnerable population, and we need to think twice before we expose them to any possible risks of abuse or maltreatment.
The Coaching Association of Canada has released their first Mental Health in Sport module which highlights the importance of a coach to take care of its mental health before showing up to practice, games, training, etc. When I reached university, I wanted nothing to do with hockey. Everything I had worked for was right in front of me and I was so close to reaching it. Looking back at it now, it’s difficult for me to understand what exactly led me to completely quit the sport I love. But I did. I always thought I want to be more than just a hockey player. I seriously thought that my whole personality revolved around hockey, and I thought that was a bad thing. Having been recently diagnosed with anxiety, after 22 years I finally spoke out about the feelings and emotions I was living with, and quickly realized to what point anxiety had been taking over my body for a long time now. I often go back in time and try to think about what my life or hockey career could have looked like if I had diagnosed this earlier on. But I have always been a strong believer in the saying: “everything happens for a reason.” I do strongly believe that everything in my life has brought me here today, advocating for young elite female athletes to build confidence and increase awareness around their place in sport. Somebody I have looked up to for a long time said some very thoughtful words to me recently. They had apologized for the way the girls’ sport system had failed me and my great potential as an athlete. As it felt relieving to hear those words, for the first time it did not make me sad or uneasy. I had a big great smile on my face and said “Thank you for the kind words. But I truly believe it brought me to where I am today, and I am happy”.
I am happy.
I spent a lot of energy trying my best to fit in with parents and show off that I am also a mature and professional individual. But what I was neglecting was the girls. I was trying so hard to be accepted by their parents that I forgot the biggest reason why I was there; to make a better and more exciting environment for my players. Parents will judge you no matter what; we all judge all coaches whether you’re young or old. So don’t lose sight of the reason you’re there. Have fun with your team, trust me it’ll bring back some childhood memories you thought you forgot about. Hang out with them in the dressing room where they’re dancing and singing, make Tik Tok dances with them, and sit at their table at dinner. At the end of the day you’re there to make a positive impact on these 17 young girls, and you won’t do that if you’re constantly avoiding them to hang out with their parents. If you’re lucky enough to coach girls; you get a whole different advantage of getting to know them outside of their sport, a different side of their personality that other coaches don’t have the privilege to know and learn. This past season specifically, I have made some incredible bonds with a handful of the players on my team. We discussed and normalized our feelings and frustrations during different parts of the pandemic. I learnt of the diverse talents every single one of these girls have aside from hockey such as them playing different sports, small business entrepreneurs, artists, bakers, etc. Most importantly, the way these girls have respected and spoken to me, I have learnt and solidified my knowledge of the importance of female role models. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to have a healthy relationship with the parents on your team. The good ones will notice and appreciate you that much more when they notice the impact you have on their kid.
To the Players:
Thank you to these girls who gave me an opportunity to grow and build confidence through a
leadership position. Thank you for reminding me of all the great experiences I’ve had with my teammates. I have replaced the horrifying insecurities the sport left me with these touching memories you enabled. Know that I have your best interest at heart before every move I make during my career. I have dedicated my masters’ research project thesis to you, in the hopes of women’s hockey benefiting from my publications.
The person I was 4 years ago would have never imagined where I am now. I never knew what I wanted to do when I “grew up”. But let me tell you this – coaching you all has opened up my eyes to the abuse I once lived when I was in your skates. The mental aggressions that shaped me into an anxious little girl with little to no self-esteem. Now, I am a powerful and confident woman who works full-time for an amazing association, here in Canada. I am a part-time master’s student studying Sport Sociology with an emphasis on coaching inspired by my past 3 hockey seasons with all of you. My heart aches at the thought of not being able to firsthand prevent these from happening to you. The hockey world does not believe I am ready to be your coach, and I am devastated by the experiences we are being deprived from. I am saddened that I will be finishing this chapter, but this book is not done being written. The hockey world better prepare for such powerful women and allies, because we will get there one day. If I could give you any piece of advice, it’s this: just because someone is in a leadership position, does not mean they are always right. Please respectfully challenge your coaches when you do not feel as if you are getting a fair shot or being treated poorly. You are going to be an agent of change, and may we meet again down the road.
To the Board Members:
The hockey world continually fails to recognize the potential of young women in leadership positions, in their own sport. Women have a place in sport, and it’s time for the world to
accept and live by it. My promise to you is that I will keep pushing these barriers in order to make it easier, and more welcoming for young women in sport because I am sick of it. You wonder why a job in sport isnt appealing to many women? I have seen parents go behind my back to ask fellow coaches about my decisions. I have known parents not to confront me after I had made a bad decision because they think I couldn’t handle it or were too scared to hurt me. I have had referees speak to my trainer on the bench instead of me, ask me for my ID to make sure I’m old enough, or better yet rink officials ask that a coach steps on the ice during practice… oh you mean me? The one in the track suit with “coach” embroidered on the arm, whistle, and white board?
Better yet- I have damn seen some directors take my voice and intelligence for granted. Because you know what, telling someone they do not think they can handle a group of “parents” or “players” because of a certain age and so-called lack of experience aligns a lot with the definition of ageism. And if you choose to deny this by telling me our hockey world has confidence in young coaches, then the only conclusion in this situation brings me to sexism. And if our girls hockey world uses sexism during their interview processes, then we have missed the boat entirely. If we choose to write about women’s hockey and its barriers, it is our responsibility to make sure we are not setting up more barriers for other women in sport. Women need to hold each other accountable and be thoughtful of our words if we will not act upon them. Finally, when we, as board members, are making decisions for an association and these girls, for the love of god, can we please keep these girls in mind? Adding ice times when, if you took the time to listen, these girls are exhausted. Choosing trainers but not asking the girls where they feel most comfortable to sweat. Track suits that are too big and don’t fit right because they’re the same ones your son’s hockey team wears and they look fantastic on them. These girls are not just pieces of a puzzle that will help you achieve some social status or hierarchy.
Your daughter and the rest of these girls are female human beings who don’t have the same anatomy, motives and goals as your sons. Listen to them and what they want for their sport. Participation will rise, I promise.
As I wish I would have taken this pause on my own terms, I am saddened to announce my break from coaching hockey. The hockey world has proven to me the sheer amount of work it needs before it can accept others. To be clear and honest, I am ashamed of the level of unprofessionalism, and biases present within the hockey world. It has a lot of learning and growing up to do. That being said, I will be keeping my position as a Diversity and Inclusion Director because I believe wholeheartedly that the hockey world needs to be making changes for the better. I am aware of my privilege as a white cis female and am actively searching for help from different and diverse voices.
For right now, it’s too late to have me as a coach in your world. As I plan to come back to hockey one day, until then it is never too late to do it the right way with other women who deserve it. It is not too late to give these girls the opportunity to have extremely charismatic and dedicated female role models. And most of all, it is NEVER too late to give women leadership roles in sport.
I wish you the best of luck.
Sincerely, Coach Mel