More Female Athletes Freeze Out Figure Skating In Favor Of Ice Hockey

Mar 8, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More girls are taking the ice - not as figure skaters, but as hockey players.

JULIETTE CHAKER BRAVIN: It's fun to skate and to get the puck.

CLEMENTINE PARKER: I like going fast and...

JULIETTE: So do I.

CLEMENTINE: ...Chasing the puck.

JULIETTE: So do I.

SHAPIRO: That's Juliette Chaker Bravin and her teammate Clementine Parker. They are both 8, and you won't catch either of them on the ice in sparkly leotards.

CLEMENTINE: I don't want to do figure skating because there's music involved, and it's hard to do with music.

JULIETTE: Yeah. You get all distracted.

CLEMENTINE: You don't wear pads. And if you fall, it will hurt.

JULIETTE: Would you rather play a game or twirl and dance? I would rather play a game.

SHAPIRO: Well, Anne Marie Chaker is hockey coach to Clementine, coach and mom to Juliette, and she's a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who wrote a piece this week titled, "For Many Girls, Figure Skating Loses Its Edge To Hockey." Anne Marie, thanks for coming in.

ANNE MARIE CHAKER: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: So we should say you are not a neutral party here. You are a former competitive figure skater-turned-hockey coach. So you have a bit of an angle on this.

CHAKER: Yeah. So I grew up just a total rink rat. In the '80s and '90s, figure skating was super cool, and I just - I loved the 6 a.m. practices, I loved the music, all of it. And it was very - the lines were very clearly drawn. It was, like, the girls were over at this sheet of ice doing the figure skating, and the boys were over here stinking up the place doing the hockey.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter). And today?

CHAKER: Today, there's a lot of girls playing hockey. The figure skating ice, there's maybe two or three girls on the ice, but not much more than that.

SHAPIRO: You dug into the numbers for your Wall Street Journal story. How fast is this growing?

CHAKER: It kind of started to take off 1998, when the women debuted at the Olympics. And then in the early 2000s, the numbers started to really soar. When I looked at the USA hockey data, I was really surprised to see, like, in the last 10 years, the growth has really skyrocketed, like, 50 percent.

SHAPIRO: I think a lot of people think of it as a very violent sport where people get injured. And, like, to take a puck to the face, that doesn't deter these girls at all.

CHAKER: It doesn't. And, you know, watching them and coaching them has been so interesting because at the beginning of the season, it's the boys that dominate everything. There's, like, 60 to 80 boys on the ice. And the girls, there's maybe six to 10 of them. They kind of seek each other out.

SHAPIRO: So these are co-ed teams.

CHAKER: They're co-ed teams. And then something happens. We have this all-girls tournament in February, and it's the first time that they see other teams of all girls. And it's, like, the power of seeing other female hockey players just like them, they feel like this belongs to them.

SHAPIRO: How much of this is connected to the success of female role models in ice hockey and the kind of absence of super high-profile figure skaters who are dominating the conversation?

CHAKER: I think it's huge. You know, when the women's Olympic ice hockey team won...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: She has stopped. United States wins gold.

CHAKER: ...I mean, Kendall Coyne competed for the first time at the All-Stars in the fastest skater event.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: An outstanding job by Kendall Coyne. Watch the feet move there. The angles are...

CHAKER: Those are eye-opening moments that answer the question, I think, for a lot of girls, like, can we do this? Yes. We can totally do this, and this is what it looks like.

SHAPIRO: This is such a recent trend. Has there been a moment on the ice that has just shocked you, seeing little girls do something that you had not seen them do before?

CHAKER: My girls, I was trying to explain to them the idea of aggression. You know, little girls are taught to be polite, to be good. And I was trying to get them to understand that that all flies out the window in hockey. Do we know what aggressive means? And I was trying to - and when we came back from that tournament, my daughter, who had kind of been afraid of the puck, just turned into this beast. And I was so proud of her.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CHAKER: She had scored her first goal, and there was just, like, a little cocky swagger. Like, it was hers now. It was...

SHAPIRO: Permission to really go for it.

CHAKER: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: Anne Marie Chaker, thank you so much.

CHAKER: Oh, my God. This was so fun. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: She is life and arts writer for The Wall Street Journal and a hockey mom and coach. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.