Q: USA Hockey recommends practicing body-checking at 12U, but do you have any recommendations for how to teach it?
A: Hockey is a progression of skills. Body-checking is an important hockey skill, and for most, the technique takes many years to master. Exposing young players to a body-checking clinic is a positive start to this progression, but there's more. It’s crucial for players to have confidence, stability and the ability to navigate through physical contact in order to excel at higher levels of play. There are many ways you can help them gain that confidence, stability and ability.
Players must first have a clear understanding of the purpose of a body-check and how to apply it in today’s game. Players also need to understand which are the risky areas on the ice and also the concept of “heads-up, don’t duck.” These are mental lessons that you can and should begin teaching long before 12U hockey.
When it comes to the purpose of body-checking, the key is to separate an opponent from the puck. There are several key components that comprise proper body contact: body position, angling, timing, gap control, stick-on-stick. These are things that players must continue to practice at all levels. Just like any other skill, players must continually work on their motor skills and technique to refine their body-checking abilities.
Proper body-contact isn’t a difficult thing to teach, and the benefits of practicing it are many. Start by implementing basic technique drills.
- Stationary stability drills, on ice or dry land, are a great way to begin.
- Good body position is the foundation of proper body contact. Focus on teaching players to position themselves with flexion in the ankles, knees bent, hips down, chest up and head up. These will be your focus points while teaching the art of giving or receiving a check. Being stable and strong on the ice will contribute to enhanced confidence and performance for players.
- An important early teaching point when practicing body contact is to promote the phrase "close and slow.” The idea is to avoid high-impact, high-speed collisions in these drills.
- After some stationary stability drills, you may want to introduce angling drills at a slower pace, on or off the ice. Emphasize that the “checkers” should:
- always maintain a stick-to-puck defensive posture.
- take away the opposing player’s hands.
- accelerate through contact.
- Puck protection 1-v-1 drills are also a great way to practice utilizing the body to gain possession.
- Additional elements that should be included in body-contact training: puck retrieval, ice awareness (including risky locations) and how to receive a check.
- As players’ body-contact skills improve, remember to implement drills that create time-and-space situations that teach anticipation and game sense. Proper “gap” – the distance between an offensive and defensive player – should be a point of emphasis. Promoting “good gap” will help defensive players be more effective and force offensive players to find ways to defeat “good gap.” Defensively, tracking and closing on the puck carrier should also be a part of the teaching and emphasis in these drills. Proper angles, timing and comparable speed are the key teaching points. When possible, checkers should look to take ice away from the opponent and use proper angling to squeeze them out of the play. This should be done under control and at a comparable speed to the attacking player, thereby increasing the checker’s chances of separating the opponent from the puck with proper (legal) and strategically effective body contact.
Nobody wants to see injuries in our game. Teaching the foundational skills of proper body contact in a controlled environment, while providing positive feedback, dramatically reduces the chances of injury while also assisting in skill acquisition. Ultimately, it creates better hockey players.
We strongly recommend implementing drills that teach proper body contact in a controlled, fun way while elevating the compete level.