Here are the highlights from a Winih.com interview at the World Hockey Summit with Arto Sieppi, manager of women's hockey for Finland since 1998.
2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.Finnish Plans
We already changed our strategy and coaching philosophy geared up for Sochi. A new element is the addition of midget female teams. And we will be centralized for the last season. We also have many girls playing at US colleges. There are 12-14 Finnish women playing there and that is a good number for us plus several in the (semi pro) Russian league. We don’t want to cut their academic time to bring them back before 2013 and money wise, it is out of question. When we came back form Salt Lake Olympics, it was 2 girls at US colleges; in Turin it grew to 5-6 girls. It will be an issue before Sochi because we will have best players abroad.
US colleges have the best facilities, it is the best league in world for women. We are encouraging our girls to leave. We try to make sure that the US coaching staff is good for us. We can’t waste any players & we have had some bad experiences. Some players haven’t gotten any better.
2010 Olympic Bronze Medal
Our performance-the bronze medal in 2010 created momentum in our federation. The other factor which also created momentum was international relations. We centralized some of our Under 18 team, like USA Hockey does in Ann Arbour, Michigan on the men’s side. We have 5 of our players together in one school. Before Sochi we will have 75% of our Under 18 team playing in the same school. We had an assistant coach from USA Hockey working on that project with us. We also have close cooperation with Hockey Canada sending players over. In our four year strategy, starting 2011 we are sending players over plus coaching staff - 10 players to a Team Canada camp in 2012 and then their 12 best players will come to our training centre in Vierumaki, Finland so we will be seeing best on best. At that age it is very important.
That is why we have also started cooperating with Norway, they are sending their Under-18 team to our camps to get good games. They will face the best in Scandinavia.
We are already planning a 3 Nations Under 16 tournament in 2011, having Sweden and Finland under 16 and Norway Under 18 play together. I would like to see an Under 16 or Under 18 European Championshp started before there is an Under 16 World Championship. The time is not right yet for Under 16 World Championship. It is too early.
Canadian Women’s Hockey League
We don’t’ know enough about league but I would say if there is an opportunity for our players to go overseas to play there. We should know more. Parents don’t know enough. We need closer cooperation with both US college leagues, CWHL and Scandinavian countries. I would like to see the CWHL sit down and tell our parents what it is all about. Parents don’t have faintest idea. If a player goes overseas, the father is excited, his kid playing in the United States or Canada. But he is frustrated if they come back and don’t make the team. We shouldn’t’ send girls who are not ready.
Non North American Hockey Federations
We need people in charge and big leaders saying let’s go for it. Here is an example. I tell my federation people we need to centralize our Under-18 team. They said "no." I said, "what do you want? They said,” gold in Sochi.” I say, “If you want gold in Sochi you have to centralize the team. “
How do you get other countries to set aside stereotypes and work with women’s hockey in their country?
You have to find the right people, head hunt the right people. There are not zillions of people saying yes lets do it, work on women's hockey. It is a tough task.
Marketing with Women's Hockey.
In Finland interest has increased. It was so important to get a bronze medal for us in Vancouver. Sponsors see 1 million watching our team vs Sweden. They see our country’s president wearing a Finnish jersey, you have to be stupid if you don’t’ see the market.
Finnish Ice Hockey President.
Is he supportive of the women's game? Yes he is, he was in locker room after gold medal game in Vancouver. With him was the president of the country. We had all of our players crying. We sneaked in our media which was a big violation, to get beautiful shots which showed up on the front pages in our country. It was the president of our ice hockey federation and our country. They come frm different parties. It was a bridge builder…
Post Summit Changes
What effect did teh International Olympic president's words, women's hockey might be gone from the Olympics if it doesn't improve?
We would have done our job anyway. The rest of the world moved. The key is, it is August now, so before January 1, 2011. I would like to see 12 countries nominating a director of female hockey. I would like to see a plan. If we would see this at the women’s world championship in Switzerland in April 2011, that would be a great place to announce changes. Switzerland is easy to get European people can go, it is so close. They could release a plan for the International Ice Hockey Federation for Sochi… that would be a statement, outside of that, it is just talking.
Here are 6 ideas to help the women’s game. Funding and attitudes towards women’s hockey influence each hockey federation’s decision and will be factors in all the topics listed below:
Women’s hockey needs a voice at the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have a person managing women’s hockey at their federations. The IIHF needs to hire a person dedicated to women’s hockey. I am told the IIHF are planning to hire such a person. It also makes sense that a women’s hockey manager be hired for each federation as well. It is the 20th anniversary of the international game and the first IIHF world championship in Canada in 1990. Surely, it is time to make some significant changes inside hockey organizations so women have their own voice.
The sport is driven top down by events.
It is still defined as a “man’s game” in many non-North American cultures. So the prestige and requirements of a world championship, Olympics and especially the new (started in 2008) under 18 world championship motivate reluctant federations, young players, fans and parents. In an interview, Julie Healy, former Director of Female Hockey with Hockey Canada echoed the same idea “Women’s hockey needs more events.” The IIHF could start by increasing competition for the Under 18 players whose one world championship isn’t enough to hone skills in this category. An 8 Nations Under 18 Championship would help. Healy agrees with the U-18 development saying “ This is the group where the money should be spent.”
Funding inequities will continue.
Allow more foreign players in North America.
Many countries will not fund women’s hockey like they fund the men’s program because women’s hockey just isn’t considered as important. Given these inequities which will take generations to change if ever, why not allow more foreign players to compete in North America with the largest population of players, better competition and an growing audience. Registration for Canada is 85,000 & US - 59,000. US college hockey offers both an education and elite competition for English speaking players. All athletes excel when they can get proper funding, competition and coaching. Those players return home and in some cases show the federation and female coaches how a good players can become great player when they are given the right opportunities.
Establish a coaching pool in each country.
Identify female and male coaches who want to learn how to coach the female game. Katey Stone, head coach at Harvard is one of many coaches who firmly believe that women cannot be coached like men, “Men and women are like apples and oranges. Women are different people, with distinct differences in attitudes. You are missing out if you think you can coach women like men.”
Create a professional league.
In the crowded world of sports, creating a pro league is no easy task especially during these economically uncertain times. But it is another event that would drive interest in the game if it is well funded and organized. Canada’s Canadian Women’s Hockey League are reorganizing, intent on starting a pro league. They are in discussions with the NHL about CWHL teams aligning with NHL teams in their geographical area (CWHL: http://winih.com/newblog/389). That league currently doesn’t pay coaches or players and it will not go pro for 2010/11 season.
There are burgeoning international leagues in Sweden and Finland but they are not professional.. Several teams in Russia’s senior league pay a number of players $1000 a month and bring over foreign players to compete for the European Champions Cup. One change that would help immensely is dropping the $1500 IIHF transfer fee that must be paid by an individual athlete to play in a league like CWHL.
What about NHL players?
Steve Nash, the NBA all star helped to fund a women’s pro soccer league recently. Why wouldn’t international NHL players get involved to help their “sisters in the game?” The public relations would benefit the men’s game immensely and influence the “women are not important” attitude at the individual federations. Wouldn’t it be groundbreaking if a player, for example, like the Ottawa Senator’s Daniel Alfredsson sponsored Sweden’s rising young star, Danijela Rundqvist, recently drafted by the CWHL’s Burlington team and got a tax receipt for his “donation”? Currently CWHL is a not-for-profit organization run by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Amateur Women’s Hockey (C.A.A.A.W.H.). WINIH.com is doing some research on how NHL players and other organizations can sponsor female hockey players directly.
Katey Stone will be head coach of US program for 2010/11 season. She gave Winih a state of the nation interview on July 1, 2010.
Q. You have a busy year ahead for 2010/11. Will you continue to coach at Harvard?
A. Yes. The only tough time will be around 4 Nations Cup in November. For example the worlds next year is later than usual, it starts April 16th so it won’t be conflict. The college championship ends around March 20th.
Q. What kinds of changes have you seen in your 16 years in college hockey.
A. I also coached 6 years of high school. The level of talent is higher and number of skilled players is greater. When I started there was a small pool of kids and even smaller at the elite academic schools. Kids coming in now are better than seniors. There is a huge differences in their strength and conditioning. US colleges have made an investment in the game in the last five years.
Unfortunately in the US women are still fighting for stature in our sport. If you are a young female coach it is difficult on many fronts/financially/family/compared to a guy with experience in men’s hky. Few opportunities exist for female coaches. I think it is getting worse. There are only 7 female coaches out of 36 teams, the number has declined in last five years. The reasons are a combination of things. Life style is tough and draining. I think athletic directors need to feel there are capable women they would hire over a capable man, but that doesn’t happen. Very few women apply for male coaching jobs but men have a chance to apply for women’s position. It is tough. I would compare it to women’s basketball. We are 15 years behind them, what they went thru and what we are experiencing now.
Q. What do you want to accomplish this year with the US program?
A. Well I am interested in winning, always one of my goals. This is a transition year. A chance to get a feel for me for players. Having a year with players is a good model; it is important to have close interaction with the kids. I need to find out who is going to commit themselves for the future…players live with pain through the Olympics…this will be a year find out who is capable and committed. I also want to develop the young great talent we have. There has to be an emphasis on youth. I am anxious for the younger players to compete at a higher level. We are far enough out (from the Olympics) to identify strengths and weaknesses. So it is a pivotal year; a chance to try some new personalities and see how it all fits.
Q. What happened to US team at the Olympics? The expectation was a gold medal.
A. I think like everyone else in the US, it was disappointing, Canada had a tremendous team. From Turin to Vancouver there were so many positives for USA hockey, in the program and development but this is still more to do. My hat is off to Canada, they played so well and unfortunately it comes down to one game…
If I had been there, I could answer that question better.
Q. What do younger players need? Most coaches say more games are needed for the Under 18 group.
A. I agree completely that the Under 18 age group need more competition. The championship in Chicago disappointeded me. I was in Calgary in 2008 for first one. I was discouraged by the atmosphere, it didn’t’ feel like a world championship. It felt more like national or club setting. Calgary was crazy and exciting…. Getting that excitement is huge. I did think the skill levels keep getting better…talent pool is superior sooner in system, plus there is better conditioning and understanding the game.
I think a player is quite fortunate if they have good coaching in high school, often you are the best player on team. I would say yes, to having an 8 Nations Cup for the Under 18 category. It would be great. There are countries struggling with fewer players. It would also be great to be able to talk with coaches from other countries. We all have to help each other.
Q. What did you think about Jacques Rogge’s comments on women’s hockey at 2010 Olympics?
A. It is scary but instead of being afraid, what are we going to do, collectively to help the game? We talked at our US college convention. We need to invite people to come and speak and share ideas about hockey. We are coaching so many of international players probably 25 or more. If we are coaching their players why aren’t we being inclusive with coaches? College hockey helps the level of their game.
I think 5-10 years down the road, we need to open up our association to club teams/other federations and also developing scholarships to let players play. Also we need to share ideas but this is not going to happen over nite. Sometimes I think people are afraid to grow. Next year, we are getting people involved who could facilitate some of these things happening. We need an executive director, right now our president and vice president are coaches. So we are working on hiring an executive director. Women’s college hockey has grown so much in 15 years to become a large body coaching women’s hockey. We need to grow our administration as well.
Q. How should the 20th anniversary of the international game be celebrated?
A. I think any time you have a milestone it is important to bring recognition to what ever you decide is important. There are so many ambassadors of women’s hockey. They are advocates of sport and tremendous hockey players. Celebrate them. For example, Canada’s France St. Louis, every body adored her. And after Vancouver some careers may be ending for some key players. I have always felt, leadership is less about wins and more about people.
Q. Tell Winih’s readers why Canada and USA are so successful and the rest of the world is so far behind.
A. Financial resources. Canada and US put behind the national teams and the number of players to chose from. Right there North America has a distinct advantage…sheer numbers…/available coaches …so many people passionate and capable. There is a lot of momentum. I am not sure those numbers are not that high in other countries.
Also how women are treated in the game. I have strong feelings about this area. For example for Russia or the Czech teams, winning is everything; there is no measure of success, if you don’t win…all is lost. It is important for young athletes to measure success but not with the attitude “if they didn’t’ win they failed. These young players are developing both emotionally and physically… if a young woman feels good about playing then it was a great experience. They competed as hard as they could and they will want to stay in the game. If you don’t have the great experience, why play? Women play for all the right reasons…no NHL for them; it is the experience with team-mates. And everyone wants to get better. How they are treated among teammates. It is a very significant factor in the women’s game.
The farther away from competition the more valuable the education. Men and women are like apples and oranges in terms of coaching. In the US college game women need to make sure at end of day they have an education. Women also play for camaraderie, different people, distinct differences in attitude, you are missing out if you think you can coach women like men.
Q. Would you like to see a women’s world hockey summit?
A. That would be great. It would be a way to impart some of those differences in the game. You can’t do it at a competition, it is not the place. You have got to be in an environment where people want to share and are not territorial.