Women Behind the Bench in the NHL Learn how the Association is developing a new diverse coaching pool for the NHL.

Female coaches are a critical component to the game of hockey, according to the president of the NHL Coaches’ Association Lindsay Artkin. However, there is still a long way to go in combating the disparity behind the bench. A big step in the right direction is the new NHLCA Female Coaches Development Program. Learn more how the Association is developing a new diverse coaching pool for the NHL. 

Women Behind the Bench in the NHL

The first female to coach full-time in the NHL was Dawn Braid when she was hired as the skating coach for the Arizona Coyotes back in 2016. Last year, Kendall Coyne Schofield was appointed as the player development coach at the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite these positive signs, there is still a lot to be done, says the president of the NHL Coaches’ Association Lindsay Artkin. “There’s this ingrained misconception that men can coach both male and female players whereas women can coach only females.” 

The disparity can impact young women who are starting a coaching career in the game. “If you look at the top professional level - which is the NHL – and there is not a woman behind the bench, how do you know it is possible to get there?” explained Artkin.

To solve this issue, the Association launched the NHLCA Female Coaches Development Program that supports women in advancing their careers and skills. A group of 50 female coaches selected from across North America get full and free access to not only educational resources and coaching tools but more importantly to NHL coaches. They lead networking sessions and have provided virtual access to their training camps. 

The program benefits both sides. “Our NHL coaches that have been involved in the sessions have told me that they actually have been the ones to learn from the women and have taken some ideas back to their NHL teams to tryout,” said Artkin. “As a woman in both a hockey and leadership role, it is very inspiring and encouraging that we are on the right path to see women behind the bench in the NHL.” 

Capitalizing on the Evolution of the Game 

Like most sports, ice hockey is going through a technological evolution, which, in turn, is enabling the creation of new roles within the industry. Knowledge of video analysis can give a solid grounding to get a foot in the door for those starting their coaching career within the game. This proved to be true for Emily Engel-Natzke, who became the first female video coach in men’s professional hockey when she was appointed by the AHL’s Hershey Bears in November 2020.

The future is bright for those who are proficient in video analysis. According to Artkin, there are several assistant coaches in the NHL who got their start as a video coach. “Over 50 percent of the NHL teams currently have two video coaches. In the next season or two I’d expect all 32 NHL teams to have two full-time video coaches, so you’ll see a lot more job openings for video coaching in the foreseeable future.” 

With new technologies coming out like puck tracking, there are thousands of statistical points that coaches can be looking at.

Artkin also envisions the rise in roles that can bridge the gap between data and coaching. “With new technologies coming out like puck tracking, there are thousands of statistical points that coaches can be looking at,” she explained. “I think there could be a need for a new role that could be a hybrid of an analytical and coaching role. We have to see how that unfolds in the next couple years.”

Education is Key

The crucial aspect of coaching is lifelong education to keep up with a game that constantly evolves. To support continued learning, the Association has launched another key initiative - the NHLCA Mentorship Program, a set of live virtual webinars led by NHL coaches around different topics. They range from leadership and career advancement strategies to player development. Round one of the program had over 3,000 coaches participating from 30 different countries. Due to its overwhelming success, the program has been renewed for another round which is running through the 2020-2021 NHL season.

According to Artkin, the feedback from the coaching community was tremendous due to the access to NHL coaches’ experience and expertise. “In hockey you always look for an edge over the competition. To achieve this and make yourself valuable, you have to stay curious and continue to learn.”

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