Those are the two words Yuvia typed into Google when she decided it was time to try again. Not just “hockey,” but “women’s hockey.”
In Mexico, a country where soccer and baseball rule sports, playing hockey is not an easy path for anyone, let alone a young girl. There seems to be a misconception that hockey is dangerous and therefore can’t be for a woman. Growing up in Guadalajara, this challenge was what first drew Yuvia to the sport at age twelve: she wanted to prove that it didn’t have to be just for boys. In fact, it wasn’t.
While playing in co-ed leagues, Yuvia and her female teammates endured comments about how they—for the sole reason of being women—were unfit to play the sport. Though she still enjoyed playing co-ed, Yuvia fantasized about what it would be like to play in an all-female league. This yearning was partially a product of the obstacles she faced as a female player. But it also stemmed from a core human desire: the desire for belonging.
“Being with other people like you, more women…” Yuvia says. “It’s not because you want to show off in the case that you’re better than other girls or women, it’s because you belong.”
Unfortunately, the only time an all-female league was established during her youth was when the state fashioned a women’s field hockey team. Players were assembled and provided with space, time, and equipment. While the female camaraderie was what Yuvia desired, the different type of hockey was not. The short, curved stick felt unfamiliar in Yuvia’s hand. Rather than being for the athletes, it seemed that the athletes themselves were being used so the state could fill a female quota. But Yuvia did not see her femaleness as a token, and though she desired the special quality of being on a women’s team, she was unwilling to compromise her passion.
So Yuvia focused on opportunity rather than obstacle. Whether it was a lack of female teammates, the sparse and expensive equipment, or the crack of dawn ice times that called for 30-minute walks laden with gear, she showed up with gratitude.
“We didn’t care,” Yuvia recalls. “We were like, this is what we have, and we’re going to do it.”
Above all else, Yuvia never stopped dreaming of progress and representation in the sport she loved. Together, she and her friends would wonder, “What if there’s a world or there’s a city where you can, you know, have women’s leagues…?”
In her early 20s, that dream seemed on the cusp of reality. Yuvia was invited to be a member of the first women’s national roller hockey team in Mexico. At that time, she was also playing basketball, and had been for years. In fact, many of her friends and family assumed basketball was her chief passion, and Yuvia felt they didn’t understand just how personal hockey was for her: it held her heart. As a result, she decided that her next basketball tournament would be her last.
It was. But sadly, it was more than basketball that ended. During the tournament, Yuvia’s knee was seriously injured. Her athletic career came to a halt just as women’s hockey was emerging in Mexico, and after a long recovery, Yuvia decided it was too risky to start again.
Fast forward 15 years:
Those are the two words Yuvia typed into Google when she decided it was time to try again.
She’d been living in New York for about six years when the global pandemic struck. Difficult times have an uncanny way of uncovering silver linings and unlocking resilience. Yuvia found herself working out more from home and feeling stronger each day.
“Suddenly, I was like… what if I tried again?”
So Yuvia sought out the community she’d always dreamt of. The first thing to pop-up on her internet search bar was Women’s Ball Hockey NYC. Before she knew it, Yuvia was back on the rink as a part of the first all-female ball hockey league in New York City.
“It’s super fun for me,” Yuvia shares. “… and also kind of all I wanted, so you know, I’m trying to enjoy that feeling and see what it feels like, because it’s something that I always dreamed when I was with my friends. We were talking like ‘yeah, imagine if we could go do this and that.’ And now it’s happening. It’s already done. So I want to be a part of that.”
But playing with all women has not satiated her passion for growing the game, or satisfied the need she still sees for women’s hockey.
“There’s more support, there are more women trying and playing and pursuing this game but still here, what I’ve noticed, is that there’s not enough,” she says. New York City has an abundance of space, tools, and possibility. Yuvia believes in exposing more women to hockey, and she endorses the classic phrase, “if you can see it, you can be it.”
“If you see somebody doing it, someone like you—another girl, another woman—you can totally, totally feel and know that youcan do it.”
Although Yuvia is now recovering from another knee injury, her optimism and excitement are palpable and inspiring. Hockey is not just a hobby, but an intrinsic part of her nature. Everything from skating to the blade of the stick mesmerizes her. She could think about hockey all day, and over the course of these many years, she has never stopped doing just that. Now back, Yuvia is motivated to help grow the types of women’s leagues that the little girl in Guadalajara, Mexico, could only dream about.
By, Ellie Milewski
By, Tracy Miller
What does it mean to play women’s hockey? If you ask one of the women in our community who grew up playing on boys’ teams because there was no girls’ team to join, or who excelled on women’s teams in college and beyond, I’m sure you might get a different answer than if you ask me—someone who first picked up a stick at age 32 to join a coed rec league.
My experience on coed teams has been overwhelmingly positive. I was lucky to walk into an environment where male and female teammates alike supported me as I learned the game. Having that support from most people made it easier to brush off the times when I felt intimidated or superfluous around any others (mostly men, because coed hockey leagues are still mostly men) who were sometimes impatient with me because they were faster or more skilled or had been playing for much longer.
But even despite that mostly positive experience, when I first had the opportunity to play in an all-women’s scrimmage, my immediate thought was, yes! Sign me up!
Why is that, exactly? What, if anything, makes the women’s game different and exciting? If you had asked me before writing this article, I probably would have said “there’s just a different energy”--and vague though that may be, I think that many women would agree with me. Here’s my attempt at getting a little more specific about what makes our women’s hockey community special.
1. Women Want To Win As A Team
Never once have I played on a women’s team where the same person was expected to dominate every play, or where the bench instructions were “just pass to this one person so she can score.” Maybe this vibe is more specific to the recreational level, but I’ve noticed it and I’m here for it. When I play well, I’m not the only one who sees it—unfailingly, someone will give me a compliment. Even if someone is struggling, the team’s reaction is more likely to be “is she OK?” or “let’s work with her on this skill” than “get her off the court.” The sense of teamwork and collective accomplishment on these teams is second to none, even if we’ve only been playing as a team for a few hours.
2. Women Pass To Me
“But Tracy,” I can hear you saying, “maybe if you were BETTER AT HOCKEY, people would pass to you all the time, regardless of your or their gender.” That’s exactly my point. Women are more likely to pass to me when it’s the right move to make, rather than searching frantically for a better (or just a male) player to pass to instead. The bar to prove myself during a women’s game is being open. If I’m in the right spot, I’m probably getting the ball.
I know that this is not just my experience, because the joy of getting the ball more often is commented upon at most of the women’s games I’ve been part of. It is nice to receive a pass and feel like you’re there for a reason and not just there to fill some sort of boob quota.
3. Women Apologize (Or Not)
This can be refreshing, to have teammates that own their mistakes and care about each other’s feelings. But sorry is not always a good thing. On the ice, as in life, women are more likely to say “sorry!” even when it’s only questionably their fault or no one’s fault at all—I too am guilty of this (and of saying “oopsie,” because I’m from the Midwest).
Women’s hockey is a great place to unlearn all of that. If you hurt someone or lose your temper, an apology is lovely. But I don’t want my teammate to say sorry when she overshoots a pass or misses a shot. Don’t even say sorry if you step on my foot or check me into the boards or get a little chippy during scrimmage. Aggression is not to be apologized for. If this is your inclination, try replacing “sorry” with “sh@!” or “fc$k.” The general meaning is the same and it sounds better.
4. Women Welcome Beginners
After a few seasons of ball hockey, my female teammate and I wanted more, so we bought a bunch of used ice hockey equipment and signed up for the lowest women’s division at Lasker. And we suuuuucked. Oh how we sucked. We couldn’t skate backwards. We couldn’t stop. We couldn’t shoot with power on our shaky footing. Yet, the response to our sucking from our more hockey-experienced teammates was, genuinely: “That’s awesome you decided to try this. It’s so cool you’re here.” And so, instead of feeling guilty or embarrassed that we’d overstepped our abilities and were thereby ruining the season for everyone, we had fun and even improved a bit. That level of acceptance and welcome wasn’t something I’d found elsewhere.
Women are so great at this, at making other women feel like they belong on the ice. And I think that may be my favorite thing about women’s hockey. We all want to see more people like us playing this sport. We value inclusiveness as well as competition. We love taking the time to teach people the fundamentals, and then celebrating their progress. If only that energy permeated every part of life.
As for me, I’ll surely keep playing in coed leagues--but I embrace being a part of the Women’s Ball Hockey NYC community for whenever I need a dose of that unmatched different energy.
By, Ellie Milewski
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived alongside hockey.
My parents are die hard New York Rangers fans and it didn’t take long for my older brother, Jack, to follow suit. A home movie of him (age 4) chasing me (age 1) around and knocking me over with a miniature hockey stick was early proof of that. Rather than calling a tripping penalty, my parents took a video.
Now don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed hockey. Whenever we went to NHL games, I had a blast. We held shoot outs in our cul-de-sac and it was always fun to don a jersey and hunker down with my family to watch games in our basement. But I was clearly the least gung-ho of my family. When my parents talk about watching the Rangers’ 1994 cup run together as newlyweds, a nostalgic mist falls over their eyes. My brother became a hockey play-by-play announcer for a minor league team. But me? I liked the game, but saw little space for it in my life. I wanted to be an actor. A writer. I was dedicated to my pursuits, and too often in our hustle culture society, that doesn’t leave space for much else.
So while my family lived hockey, I lived alongside it.
Then the global pandemic struck.
I finished my senior year of college, graduated online, and was suddenly out in the world on my own for the first time. Except I wasn’t… I was quarantined at home.
While this certainly wasn’t what I’d planned, I tried to maintain perspective and recognize how fortunate I was: I had my family, a safe environment to live in, and time to dedicate to my creative writing pursuits. So as the days blurred together, I spent many of them lost in stories and my imagination. But my tendency to live in my head became more and more of a double-edged sword, because I was also getting lost in the world's anxiety. There was so much confusion, fear, loss, and anger circulating each day, and my mind was overflowing. I wanted out. I wanted something that would allow me to escape my thoughts, ground me in my body, and keep me in the present.
At the time, the NHL was in the middle of their COVID-shortened season and I thought, what the hell? Why not just watch a lot of hockey?
And let me tell you, I did. Hockey became my escape. Amidst the long days that lacked cohesion, hockey was something my family could put on the calendar and look forward to. The more I watched, the more I grew to love not only my team, but everything about the sport: The fast pace and fluidity, the athleticism and intelligence required to make great plays, the flow of the game which called for a constant switch between offense and defense.
My family joked that I had been abducted by aliens and replaced by some strange hockey fanatic.
Along came the summer of 2021, and my dad asked if I’d be interested in playing in a ball hockey league. Both he and my brother had played for years, and in response to the coronavirus, my dad’s league was putting together an outdoor season. This was a chance to get out of the house, be on a team with my dad, and translate my newfound love of watching hockey into playing. Win, win, win… I said yes.
My first scrimmage was nerve-racking. While it excited me to try something new, I also experienced that classic human fear of messing up. (Is this a good time to quote all-time hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”?)
Luckily, that fear didn’t last long because the game started and suddenly there was no space for being nervous. You had to be in your body and present. There was no time to be worried about what had happened earlier that day or what might happen the next day. There was only time to play, and that was a gift. I was hooked on hockey.
Throughout that entire summer, I looked forward to Monday nights when my dad and I loaded our gear into the car and drove to the rink. Hockey was quickly becoming an important part of my life. And it didn’t take up time that I “should” have been dedicating to work or something else. In fact, it created more balance in my life.
Hockey also provided me with a type of community I’d never experienced before. I’d spent a majority of my college years around arts majors like myself. While that was wonderful, we all existed in the same niche. Playing hockey, I met people of different ages, with different backgrounds, who had a variety of pursuits and passions… people I never would have met if it wasn’t for the game. Add the backdrop of a global pandemic, and that community—that connection with others—was more valuable that ever.
This became even more apparent when I moved to New York City in early September 2021. I’d always wanted to live in New York, but that didn’t take away from the fact that moving was going to be overwhelming, and it was going to take time to adjust and establish a new life. As it so happened, the commissioner of my ball hockey league back home put me in contact with the commissioner of a league in New York City.
Three days after the move, I subbed in a game and immediately felt welcomed by an entire group of people I’d never met before. It can be hard being the new person, but working together towards a common goal has a way of quickly breaking down barriers because you are, quite literally, on the same team.
After that first game in New York, some of my fellow female teammates told me about Women’s Ball Hockey in NYC. Two weeks later, I was playing in the Hock-away Beach women’s ball hockey tournament. And now? Now, as I write this article, I’m already excited for the next ball hockey season to begin.
It might sound cliché to say, but hockey has truly changed my life. The sport has brought me community. It has given me a greater ability to stay present in what I’m doing, which has improved other aspects of my life, such as writing and work. It’s brought me joy and better health. Hell, my brother even texts me more now because he knows I’ll finally understand all the Rangers’ news he wants to discuss!
Another joke my family now makes is that all it took was a global pandemic to get me to be a hockey fan. But in truth, all it took was hockey to get me through a global pandemic.
Want to be part of the discussion? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story of how you found your way to hockey!
Interested in learning more about women’s ball hockey in NYC and how to join? Follow us on Instagram @wbhnyc or visit our website www.womensballhockeynyc.org