Recently we got the chance to chat with Kelly and Lisa of Lift Her Up Hockey about their program that places an emphasis on providing a supportive community for women in hockey. Check it out below!
Lift Her Up Hockey is an incredible initiative, how did this originally come about?
We laced up our hockey skates five years ago. We met in a dressing room, as strangers, with other women who were putting their hockey equipment on for the very first time as adults. We didn’t know then that many of us would become good friends and skate for more than eight more seasons together.
Lift Her Up Hockey started from a conversation after a few team players became less supportive of others and winning became more important than having fun. We wanted to create a league that focused on the hockey experience, while remaining “friendly competitive" with refs and timed games, but allowing women to support each other on the ice. You can have music on the bench, mixed skill, and still have get the best workout of a game of hockey when you create the “right” culture. Our first marketing strategy was to target women to try the game. Then, we wanted to have more women who had hockey experience and wanted to skate in a supportive league, mentoring others informally during games. It works!
We support youth Refs in our league. We hire young females to officiate our games; they too need a supportive community to gain experience and grow. This is our small contribution to help the advance of girls in sports.
We fully embraced the movement of “Grow the Game". Whether you are starting to play at 30, 40 or 50 years old, the game of hockey is open to you. Lift Her Up Hockey is about community and women who are lifting others up.
Your group was interviewed for a documentary, 4 The Love Of Puck, what was that experience like?
We were thrilled to be part of their documentary about the culture of hockey and why we choose to play. When they reached out with two days notice asking if we could play a game on a Friday night, we jumped on it. We felt a connection to the story they were on a journey to tell. Our league was their first all-female hockey league that they skated with. When we met Cas and Adam, we knew these guys were genuinely curious about the league that made Wednesday nights our favourite night of the week. They wanted to experience the smaller 3 on 3 ice rink and although they could have out-skated us, they opted for the assists. Although one of their team members did not score on our goalie that night, and near the end he was trying fairly hard.
We knew after that evening talking with them on camera that it didn’t matter where or how we started to play; it was our shared experiences and love for the game that would be the common thread among the leagues they interviewed from across the US, to Canada and abroad. Level of play set aside, it was the culture of hockey that connects us.
Some of our players had an opportunity to contribute their own personal stories about starting hockey and staying with it.
It was humbling for us to listen to them express their experience with Lift Her Up Hockey – it was validation for us that we were on the right path.
Their film will illustrate that regardless of who you are or where you come from, there is a common bond shared by all who have laced up their skates and experienced this amazing life-long sport. We are extremely grateful to have contributed to their story… from a little community start up league in Oakville to sharing the same experiences as many they interviewed about the love of hockey. We continue to stay in touch on social and from time to time, exchange updates on our leagues. We also talk about a reunion skate.
One of your focuses is on providing a welcoming and social atmosphere, can you speak to why this focus is so important?
If you are intentional about creating a positive culture, you have to have to spend the time thinking about the experience you want players to have, from when they arrive to when they leave the rink. If the atmosphere for our league is positive, it eliminates negative talk on and off the ice, encourages people to support each other, and overall makes it a fun place to be on a Wednesday night. Our lives are busy, we want women to look forward to skating with us. We have weekly player of the game because even as an adult, being recognized for a good game played feels good. Music on the bench is a favourite. Many studies have found that music can have a positive effect on teams when tunes are played during a task. We believe music on the bench can diffuse a tense situation and keep the game fun when you are resting between shifts. We also have celebrated birthdays because they are never overrated! We make a big deal about our goalies; they are so important in contributing to the overall experience every week. Our league started with the idea to bring women together first, then let’s play the game we all love and it is working - we have women who play outside of the Oakville area, from Toronto, Brampton, Mississaugua and as far as Hamilton, Guelph and Grimsby. When your culture wraps hockey up as a fun place to be during a busy week, players will show up. We are grateful for this small but mighty hockey league.
What advice would you give for any women that are hoping to take up hockey for the first time later in life?
We did it! Lisa and I were both “right around 50" when we played our first hockey game.
Hockey is a great way to stay physically fit, challenge your balance, core, and improve your coordination in later life. Socially, hockey has been an important activity for us. The connections and relationships you develop before, during, and after the game really can contribute positively to your overall mental health. We often have said that the best parts of the hockey game happen in the dressing room, before and after the game (before Covid, of course).
Find a league that is not overly competitive and is open to new skaters. Our league has a mix of skill and our better skaters understand that mentoring new players is an expectation. We have seen first-hand that skating with players who are better, who consistently pass the puck and encourage you on the ice will dramatically improve a new player’s skills over a season or two. Although winning feels good momentarily, when you are playing with others who are supportive, you will still feel good after a loss.
Don’t be afraid of not knowing how to stop. If you let yourself talk you out of trying, you won’t have the courage to lace up. Most leagues will have an option for you to come out and try. Borrow or buy second hand equipment. You will be surprised how many women are supportive of helping you learn.
Talk to other women who are playing - they all have a story about their first skate. Our regret is that we didn’t start to play sooner….and now, we count the days of the week until our next game!
Stuck for a gift idea this season? Gift yourself the game of hockey!
What do you hope for in the future for Lift Her Up Hockey?
Our goal is double our league registration from our current roster of four teams, remain small enough to continue to offer more than just a game, but a hockey experience. We hope to continue grow our network of like-minded organizations, small and large, whose focus is to elevate others and support growing the game. We would like to be known for our community focus with more sponsors of small-business owners and partnerships that are promoting more kindness in hockey. We want Lift Her Up Hockey to become a brand that is associated with inclusivity and a supportive, safe place to play. Whether you are a goalie or a player, you will receive more than just a game for your league fees.
In the short term…our community of players have been asking for branded Lift Her Up Hockey merchandise, we hope to take something to print very soon.
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