You tighten your ponytail and pull on your helmet. For a little girl joining her boys team on the ice in small town Northern Ontario, the empty dressing room serves as a proverbial echo-chamber of the concession stand commentary.
“Girls don’t play hockey”
“No one will watch”
Despite never seeing older girls play hockey you learn to persevere and block out the noise of your male opponents and their parents. You find more ponytailed teammates and you make it through the “pretty-girls-don’t-play-hockey” drop-off.
Years later, you’ll win a national championship and sign pro contracts. Google Home will be able to answer your dad’s prompt, “Hey Google, who is Sydney Kidd?”.
These will be the lesser parts of your hockey career.
The important parts will be so much harder than gold medals, rings or blue checkmarks. From a young age you’ll experience a microcosm of systemic societal challenges through a single sport.
You’ll learn about the gender pay gap while you’re paid less than your male colleagues at hockey camps, despite your impressive hockey resume. It will take years for you to feel comfortable to type the words impressive hockey resume as you recondition your brain to believe your accomplishments exist on the same level as your NHL-drafted brother.
You’ll recognize that far too many little girls playing the sport today look like you and not like Sarah Nurse or Bridgette Lacquette. That the rich palette of Canada’s diversity doesn’t match the canvas of its favourite game.
You’ll blame the media boys club for the all too many moments a little girl walks up to you asking for your autograph on a men’s hockey jersey. Frustrated society can’t seem to understand that restricting the visibility of female athletes limits progress far beyond the sport of hockey.
You’ll feel your own painful reflection reading articles depicting the abuse faced by young female athletes with male dominated coaching staffs. Learning from this brave sisterhood of athletes that there is still a lot of work to do to ensure sports are a safe space.
You’ll smile politely at hockey dads as they explain they didn’t recognize an imbalance of opportunities for men and women existed before having a daughter. As if being unable to impart a Y chromosome should be the defining moment of someone’s perspective on the world.
In parallel, you’ll also choose to divest in your hockey efforts as you focus on what you’ve been told is a “real career” in business. But your moment in the professional women’s hockey discourse will exist at the intersect of national team members and career women. A painful statement as those closest to the sport acknowledge a career in women’s hockey is one of immense sacrifice and not feasible for most.
As you inch out of the rink and into the boardroom you’ll realize your success off the ice is built on the back of the fundamentals you learned from the game. Teamwork, commitment and drive, a combination of traits culminating in a quasi-religious experience of sacrificing for something bigger than yourself.
One day you’ll realize you’re a better woman because of a game.
Every once in a while–when you trade pencil-skirts for shin-pads–you’ll recognize your pro hockey dreams in the eyes of the 6-year-old girl smiling at you with a sharpie. The late nights at practice and early conference calls that pushed you to consider giving the game your 2-weeks notice will fade into the background.
And as you stop getting better on the ice, you’ll find your voice off the ice. You’ll realize that your role in this moment of the sport isn’t to score game winning goals. Rather, you’ll embrace that your role is to teach 6-year-old girls how to sign autographs, how to use their outside edges, how to talk about their accomplishments with pride and how to never settle for less than their dreams.
You’ll learn that young girls who are told they can’t do something can become women who believe they can do anything.
Sydney Kidd is a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and a full-time management consultant in Toronto, Ontario. Formerly she played professional hockey with the Toronto Furies of the CWHL and the New York Riveters of the NWHL. She won a national championship with Western University in 2015. Sydney grew up playing hockey in her hometown of Sundridge, Ontario.