American Special Hockey Association with Jen O’Brien, Episode #32

Today’s guest is Jen O’Brien, the Executive Director at the American Special Hockey Association, or ASHA as it’s called. Jen serves nationally and her advocacy supports organizations and athletes with special needs as they strive to achieve their goals with the coolest game on ice. During her tenure with ASHA, Jen has helped them grow to support over 100 established special hockey clubs throughout the US and she has also grown over a dozen new ones. As awareness increases about special hockey so will opportunities for more people to become involved and actively help grow access to the sport they love. I have personally known Jen for over a decade and she is truly a giver and always looking to help others. I cannot wait to share our conversation with you.

You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in…

  • What led Jen to become the Executive Director at ASHA [2:23]
  • What is ASHA all about [3:42]
  • The connection between ASHA and the NFL [6:08]
  • Where do the funds come from to run the organization?[11:15]
  • Are there ASHA teams all over the country for people to get involved with? [13:54]
  • What does it cost for players? [16:43]
  • How has Jen seen hockey impact the lives of those involved in ASHA? [19:13]
  • What are the next steps for ASHA? [27:11]
  • What Jen did today that put her in the right mindset for success? [31:03]
  • How you can get involved with this amazing organization! [31:42]

What is the American Special Hockey Association all about?

Jen says that ASHA is kind of like a chamber of commerce for special hockey. They serve over a hundred teams in the United States from Alaska to Florida and we go from San Jose all the way up to the Maine/New Hampshire border. So we crisscrossed the country. ASHA’s teams are for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities who would otherwise not be able to play on a team. They make sure that everybody has a place in hockey and they take care of all of the special things that need to happen in special hockey. Whether that’d be adaptive equipment, equipment, ice training, anything and everything that is specific to working safely so that everybody can have a great time on the ice and be a part of the game.

How is hockey impacting the lives of those involved?

Jen says her favorite question that she gets asked is how has she seen hockey impact the lives of the people who are involved. She’s got so many stories but there isn’t enough time in the entire podcast to tell them all. She shares one story with us about a girl with Downs Syndrome who plays hockey on a pond near her home. She usually plays alone. The girl’s mom kept sending Jen videos as hockey brought a group of kids together over the course of a weekend.

It went from one day to two days and from one player to two to three, and at the end there were about 10 kids on the ice, all playing together. It was completely spontaneous. Nobody noticed who had a disability and who didn’t have a disability or who was one ethnic group versus another ethnic group. They were all hockey players. The only thing they knew was one was a Caps fan, one was a Bruins fan and one was a Penguins fan. It was a great story and I highly recommend listening to Jen tell it in the episode.

The Stinky Sock Penalty

Jen tells us that in ASHA, there’s something called the stinky sock penalty. When somebody knows there’s a new player on the ice, everybody, no matter what team you’re on, knows that at some point, that new kid gets to score their goal. They can’t just set it up, they have to make it real. Inevitably it will be one of the veteran players who will get that puck back in front of the kid that needs to score. All of a sudden that parent starts to see the opposing team helping their kid. Everybody who’s been around long enough knows that there’s a hush that happens and everybody’s watching, it may happen slowly, but eventually that kid will score the goal.

When it happens, that parent will turn around and see that there are probably about 10 parents now standing just the right distance behind them, cheering them on as much as we’re all cheering on that kid. There isn’t a dry eye in the house, every time it happens. That is what ASHA is doing, it’s slowly building the momentum and helping each team, wherever they are, get to their goal and continue to reach out and to grow. But also encouraging people to get more involved and see how being involved will benefit them, not only on the ice but off the ice as well.

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Jen O’Brien & ASHA

Jennifer O’Brien is the Executive Director of the American Special Hockey Association serving over 100 special and adaptive hockey programs across the United States. Jen’s focuses on supporting and sustaining special and adaptive hockey with best practices, programs, and resource development to grow opportunities for inclusion in the game of hockey and in the hockey community. Jen previously founded Life Is Washable, Inc., which delivered community-based engagement programming to over 55,000 participants. Active programs include “SenseAble Sensory Kits” and the “Fair Play” Adaptive Sports Programs with NCAA collegiate athletic programs. Jen also coordinated the build (and rebuild) “OurSpace at Rec Park” which is one of the largest accessible playgrounds on the East Coast. Jen was recognized as the 2018 New York Mother of the Year by American Mothers, Inc. and currently serves on the AMI National Board of Directors. Jen is also a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Jen is dedicated to advocating for inclusion and accessibility through collaboration to broaden awareness and acceptance for individuals with special needs.


Guests on the Mitlin Money Mindset Show are not affiliated with CWM, LLC, and opinions expressed herein may not be representative of CWM, LLC. CWM, LLC is not responsible for the guest’s content linked on this site.

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