Barbara Williams

Former NHL Skating Coach

Location: Long Island, NY

"I will get through this. I know I can do this."

These two phrases have served me well my whole life.  They have protected me, reassured me and given me confidence. I usually say them quietly, with my eyes closed, barely above a whisper.

To some, these phrases are just a combination of positive words that sound nice when strung together. Believing that they are true, however, has guided me through every pivotal moment of my not-so-easy life.

These phrases were first my solace when I’d go to school with bruises and cuts, administered by an angry, raging alcoholic mother, whose actions frequently required the police to visit our Long Island home. They were my inspiration when, as a little girl, I’d be in skating competitions, look to the stands, and once again see that I was alone. No one from my family, mom or dad, really ever came to support me.

They helped me see the light, in my late 20’s, to know that I deserved better than a husband whose abusive and cruel ways, both physically and verbally, knew almost no boundaries.

They made me believe that I could provide a decent life for my three kids. Even if I was a single mother, in the mid-1970’s who’s most marketable skill, teaching power skating, was in a field dominated by men.

These life experiences were painful. I’m not going to lie, they still hurt today. But they could never break me. I refused to allow that. My go-to phrases were always there to give me confidence.

And, I never needed confidence more than on January 11, 1977.

It was at the former Racquet & Rink in Farmingdale, NY, that I had my first day as the official power skating coach of the New York Islanders. This distinction made me the first female coach in a men's sport on a national level.

I wanted, so badly, to be good.

There was lots of media attention. I had great support from the team’s leadership, and, above all, the full confidence of the man who helped hire me – the late Al Arbour, coach of the New York Islanders. Al was a Hall of Famer for the NHL and in my humble opinion, a hall of famer in life.

Most of the players liked me and respected my abilities. I had already been training a couple of them privately for a little while, so that helped. Some were uncertain of what I could do but treated me nicely anyway. A few others, well, they just didn’t want me there at all. They would have been happy to see me fail. Even if they didn’t say it directly to me, I knew exactly how they felt.

Before I got on the ice, I was nervous as hell. In truth, I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up. There I was, all 5-foot-2 of me, about to coach world class NHL players. I knew this day was going to help define me as a professional.  Was I going to trust my abilities? Or, was I going to shrink in the face of a challenge?

Well, I hadn’t surrendered before, and I wasn’t about to then.

I kept my phrases close and head in the game. I proved that I deserved to be there. I projected my voice louder than ever before. I was more organized and determined than ever before.   I knew I had to demand respect in my tone and actions.

It was, without a doubt, the longest 30 minutes of my life.  Thankfully, it was a success. On the most significant day of my professional life, having the confidence to lean in and give everything I had is what got me through.

They say that if you fake a smile for long enough, it becomes real. I think the same goes for believing in one’s self. Have the confidence you deserve, believe that you’ll get through it, and you will. I’ve learned in life, that there are no short cuts.  The first step is always the hardest, no matter what you want to accomplish or what you want to change.

Today, I am confident in saying that I’m proud of my accomplishments. I’m thankful to be a nominee for the U.S.A. Hockey Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. For the first time, I’m leaning in and sharing with confidence - and without fear - that I want to hear my name called as a Hall of Famer.

I may have never played in the NHL or won a Stanley Cup; but, I know for darn sure that I helped lots of players get there.I am not ashamed to admit that I want these honors. They would be a validation of a lifetime’s work. I’d like to think they would also help inspire other women to believe they can achieve any of their dreams – on the ice or off.

While my life experiences were painful, they couldn’t break me. I refused to allow it.  Instead, I leaned in and told myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. No matter what happens, I know I have my friends, faith and family to support me.  I also have the many students who I want to help succeed and have grown close to.

And, I always have the two phrases that helped me so much in my life.

“I will get through this. I know I can do this.”