For as long as she can remember, Paige Pyett wanted to play with the boys.
“My brother - I basically followed him around and wanted to do everything he did,” said Pyett of her brother, Logan, who was a captain of the Regina Pats and also played with the gold-medal winning team in the 2008 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship.
Pyett is currently an assistant coach with the University of Regina Cougars men’s hockey team - making her the only female coach in Canada West men’s hockey.
Pyett’s appointment to the role marks a trend towards more and more females holding coaching roles in male sports.
The NBA now has two female assistant coaches, hiring the league’s first full-time female assistant coach in 2014. MLB’s Oakland Athletics hired the league’s first female assistant coach in 2015. The Arizona Cardinals hired an intern as the NFL’s first female position coach in 2015, and the Buffalo Bills hired the first female full-time assistant coach in early 2016.
In hockey, skating expert Dawn Braid was hired by the Arizona Coyotes in summer 2016, making her the NHL’s first full-time female assistant coach.
“I think it shows more diversity in those leagues, whether it’s at the professional level or the university level. It shows there’s more opportunity for women to be in those types of positions,” said Larena Hoeber, associate professor in the University of Regina’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.
Hoeber, who studies gender equity in athletics, says that many women coach males at the grassroots level, but there’s a lack of women in coaching positions in more elite leagues.
“So then you have this big gap, and [women] don’t get the experience,” said Hoeber.
With women like Pyett taking on positions as assistant coach for a men’s team at the university level, it seems there is more opportunity to move up in the ranks.
Born in Milestone, Sask., Pyett came to the Cougars after a season coaching with the Keyano Huskies men’s hockey team in Fort McMurray, Alta.
As a youngster, she played on boys’ teams in small town Saskatchewan until she reached the bantam level. She also played with the SJHL team, the Notre Dame Hounds, while attending high school in Wilcox, Sask. In university, she played with the Brown University Bears in Providence, Rhode Island.
After a season coaching in Alberta, Pyett moved back home to Saskatchewan. She decided to give it a shot with the university men’s team in Regina, and sent the Cougars head coach Todd Johnson an email.
“His question was the same as everyone’s first question, ‘Why men’s?’” said Pyett.
She said she was inspired to go for the position because her personality makes her well-suited for working with a men’s team.
“She’s a very black-and-white person, who kind of says what she thinks, doesn’t beat around the bush,” said Johnson.
“That’s very important,” said Johnson.
During games, Pyett keeps track of statistics and plays to focus on when reviewing game tape. At practices she gets on the ice for skills sessions and helps run drills for defence.
“We don’t pay a lot of attention to the female-male thing,” said Johnson. “She’s regarded as a coach, she holds herself as a coach”
“Qualified people are qualified whether they’re a man or a female.”
Pyett also says she coaches men the same way she would coach women.
“I’ve always been more of a tough love kind of personality, even as a player,” said Pyett.
Her desire to work with a men’s team stems from her childhood of following in her brother’s footsteps.
“If I wanted to play street hockey with them, or be involved in the things that they were doing, I was always net,” said Pyett.
“I think that helped in the sense that I had to take those roles, and get hit with the tennis balls,” she said.
“They never took it easy on me.”
Pyett also credits her parents’ competitiveness and ambition for instilling those same qualities in her.
“Growing up, I was always more of the rough and tumble type,” said Pyett.
Although Pyett is helping to break down barriers for leadership roles for women on men’s athletics teams, that was never her intention.
“I didn’t go into it with that in mind … but now, being there, I guess when I think about it, I’m proud of myself, and my family is very proud of me,” said Pyett.
“I’m going after the things that I want to do, regardless of my gender.”
“Hockey has been such a huge part of my life,” she said. “If I can help progress the state of hockey and athletics towards the future, that’s awesome.”