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12U Q-and-A: Contact confidence takes practice

11/15/2018, 10:00am MST
By Emily West

Q: Body-checking is illegal in girls and women’s hockey, so why should we divert teaching time to train body-contact skills for female players?

A: When I’m training young female hockey players throughout the nation, working on off-ice shoulder bumps or on-ice body contact stability, parents will often ask, “Why are they being taught body contact when there is no body-checking in the game?”

My response is always the same. Even though body-checking is illegal in the female game, we do have body contact, and a lot of it. Furthermore, the players and teams that are the most skilled in using body contact effectively tend to have the most success.

In a way, I feel that the no-body-checking rule in the female game has caused some reluctance to teach and coach the body-contact skill. What I mean is that, since body-checking is illegal in our game, some coaches decide it’s not impactful or important to focus on teaching body contact during practice and off-ice sessions at young ages and throughout a female’s development. Why would they coach players about something that is not in the game, right?

But the reality is that there’s a lot of body contact in the game, and there’s a lot that falls under the body contact umbrella, so to speak. When I think of body contact, it includes angling, proper stick positioning, puck battles, leverage and physical strength, and the confidence and understanding of how to effectively give and receive body contact on skates. The body contact skill also includes proper physical awareness of positioning on the ice, knowing where on the rink are the safe zones to receive body contact and what are some areas of the ice where body contact should be avoided. Those are all important in terms of playing safe, successful, winning hockey, yet many of those components fall through the cracks and aren’t taught to female players simply because body-checking is illegal in our game. This is a coaching mistake we must correct.

Teaching our female players the skill of effective body contact, and building their on-ice physical confidence, is critical. At the highest levels of women’s hockey, all of the aforementioned components under that body contact umbrella become absolutely crucial to a player’s success. So, instead of leaving female hockey players unprepared and scrambling to learn body contact skills in the last quarter of their development, while trying to compete at the highest level, USA Hockey recommends teaching it early, with age-appropriate techniques, and continuing to teach it consistently throughout the entire development process. That way, when players do arrive at the highest level, they’re prepared to succeed and body contact has become a second-nature skill in their tool box.

The author, Emily West, played collegiately at the University of Minnesota, where she was a two-time captain of the Gophers and a Patty Kazmaier Award nominee in 2010. She helped Minnesota win an NCAA national championship in 2012.

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