How to Introduce Body Checking to Youth Hockey Players?

How to Introduce Body Checking to Youth Hockey Players?

Body Checking

Hockey is a physical sport, and sooner than later, young players need to be introduced to the more physically demanding aspects of the game. Body checking is one of these aspects. Considered to be the fourth line of defence in hockey, most parents and coaches worry a lot about how to introduce body checking to young players properly.

Before body checking can be introduced, players must be well trained in the game’s fundamental aspects like skating, game awareness, and body positioning. After teaching the first three lines of defence (angling, stick checks, and body blocks), coaches can start drilling the players on body checking.

In this article, we will explore this subject in detail. We will start with the precursors to body checking and then move on to the actual body checking techniques. We will also share some helpful tips that coaches can employ to teach body checking to their players more effectively.

Introduction to Body Checking

Hockey is a sport with a fair amount of physical play. The exhilarating puck battles that occur as part of the game is one of the reasons why fans and players love this game. But often, this aspect of the game is overhyped in the media. More often than not, you will find them promoting a skillful part of the play like body checking as more of a “battle.”

So, it is crucial to introduce young players to the real idea behind body checking before they’re actually taught the skills. Young players, in particular Mites (U8), Squirts (U10), and Peewees (U12), need to understand well that body checking is about puck possession, not hitting the opponent as hard as you can.

It goes without saying that Hockey can seem a bit too intense for some people. But to the fans and players of the game, there is something intensely pleasurable about balancing the sheer ferociousness of plays like checking and its discipline. Like it or not, body checking is vital for both offensive and defensive play in hockey.

So, it is essential to introduce these skills to young players as early and as safely as possible.

Learn Body Play in Hockey First

Before young players can start learning body checking techniques, they must first be well instructed on what actually constitutes a legal body check. A legal body check is a play where the player checks an opponent in possession of the puck using either his body from the front, diagonally or from the side. Players also cannot take more than two quick steps when doing a body check, or it will result in a foul.

Body check is an essential part of defensive play in hockey. So, before players start training on defence, they must be well versed in these techniques, and in order to begin learning body checking techniques, players must be well trained in the following components of body play:

Skating Skills

Players must be able to move in all four directions with ease and change directions rapidly. They must also develop a lot of strength in their legs and work on their balance and agility. Balance and agility require focus on skills of stopping, restarting, turning, and pivoting rapidly.

Anticipating the Opponent

Players must be able to anticipate what their opponents are about to do before they actually do it. This is a crucial skill and requires a lot of observation and preparedness. Hockey is an intensive sport, so not being able to anticipate the opponent’s next move can be a considerable disadvantage.

Positional Playing Skills

The most critical component of positional playing is angling. Angling is the skill employed to make the opponent move in a specific direction. This is a crucial skill as it can help players move their opponents to an area where body checking can be beneficial in retrieving the puck from them.

Awareness of the Game

This is another component of the game young players need to master. Most untrained players go about a game with a sort of tunnel vision, focusing only on the ongoing play or the area where the play is happening. Players need to be well aware of the entire ice surface, locating their options and potential threats well ahead of time.

Body Positioning

Body positioning requires a lot of awareness of one’s body. These skills can help players remain in a ready position so that they can counter any sort of body play from the opponent. Good body positioning is also vital when checking another player. A well-trained opponent could otherwise anticipate a particular body check and maneuver around it with relative ease.

Employ the Defensive Precursors to Body Checking

Most of the skills mentioned above have to be mastered before players can start employing body checking techniques with effectiveness. Once a player is confident about these skills, they can begin using body play techniques like angling, stick checks, body blocks, and body checks.

Angling

Angling is considered to be the first line of defence in hockey. It requires the player to be extremely confident in their skating ability.

In angling, a player forces the opponent with the puck to move to a specific direction on the ice, away from the open ice. If successfully executed, players can contain their opponents to the outside of the rink.

There are basically three components of angling:

  • Fore-checking: Staying slightly behind the opponent while skating, maintaining body contact all along.
  • Back-checking: Staying somewhat in front of the opponent while skating, keeping your stick in the passing lane, and containing the opponent to the outside.
  • Skating backward: Lining your outside shoulder with the opponent with the puck while skating backward alongside him. Once the player moves towards the outside, pivot yourself towards the direction to angle the player to the outside for good.

Stick Checks

Stick checks are considered the second line of defence in hockey. There are four components of Stick checks that players need to master:

  • Poke check: The goal here is to knock the puck off of the opponent’s stick. This is the first stick checking technique young players are taught and is usually executed when skating backward.
  • Stick lift: This uses the hook in your stick to lift the opponent’s stick, separating their stick from the puck. This is a crucial skill when back-checking an opponent, generally used in coverage.
  • Stick hook: This angles your stick sideways and “hooks” the puck away from the opponent. This is a useful technique when you are approaching the opponent from the back and are unable to overtake him.
  • Stick press: This is when you place your stick over the opponent’s stick, preventing him from making a pass or shooting the puck. Stick presses are often employed in close-quarter situations.

Body Blocks

Body blocks are considered the third line of defence in hockey. It is the skill of using your body to prevent an opponent (with or without the puck) from getting to a specific area on the ice. This is often employed in situations where a body check would be too dangerous to execute.

Proper body positioning is vital. You must be extremely aware of his body, keeping a low center of gravity with your knees bent and feet apart. The fundamental goal is to keep your body between the opponent and the position they’re trying to get to. Maintaining a proper gap between you and the opponent is necessary to anticipate their moves.

Develop Body Checking Skills

Once the players have mastered the first three lines of defences, they can start focusing on developing their body checking skills. Body checking is considered the fourth line of defence in hockey.

The objective of body checking in hockey is to crash into the opponents with either one’s hips or shoulder, separating the player from the puck or simply disrupting their flow in the game, impeding their ability to move forward with the puck.

There are four body checking techniques players need to learn:

Take Out Body Check

This is the first and most crucial of the body check skills that a young hockey player needs to learn. It involves pinching the opponent into the boards. Players must skate slightly in front of their opponent (with their hips ahead of the opponent), and then pinch their sticks and hands with their hips. The player’s stick has to go under the opponent’s stick while doing this so that he can separate the puck from him.

Common Errors When Employing Take Out Body Checks

There are few common errors most beginners make when employing body checking techniques. Young players need to be mindful of these errors and work on them as early as possible to avoid making errors during the games.

  • The most common error most players make is hitting the opponent’s body too soon. Players must avoid hitting the opponent when their bodies are even.
  • Another error players make is hitting the opponent too aggressively with their hips. This can be dangerous at times for both the opponent and the player employing the technique.
  • Another error players need to be mindful of is not pinching the player’s stick into the boards hard enough. This can let the opponent employ creative techniques to break out of the check safely with the puck.
  • The fourth and final error that many players make when body checking their opponent is not keeping their feet moving with the play. This can once again allow the opponent to break free.

Pinning Against the Board

The goal of pinning the opponent against the board is to contain him and separate the puck from him. Unlike Take Out body checks, which don’t involve solid body hits, this technique requires full contact between the player and the opponent.

There are multiple ways to execute this technique:

  • Knee Pin: To implement this technique, the player must come from behind the opponent and then press their body against the boards. The player must slightly bend their knee and insert it in between the opponent’s legs, pressing hard and holding them.
  • Body Squeeze: To execute this technique, players must approach opponents from the back and move to the side. The player must have his hands and elbows in front of the opponent and legs behind them. They must then squeeze the opponent’s body between their arms and legs.
  • Stick Lasso: To execute this technique, players must approach their opponents from the back with a wide stance. With their stick in one hand, they have to cover the front of the opponent. Then using the other hand to hold the opposite side of the opponent’s body, the player must press their opponent to the boards.

Shoulder Checks

A shoulder check’s goal is to use one’s shoulder to knock the opponent away from the open ice. To execute this technique, the player must first get close to the opponent so that they can perform the method using a single stride forward.

Focusing on the opponent’s chest and angling their shoulder slightly lower than the opponent’s, the player must step forward and then bash their shoulders against the opponent’s chest.

While doing this, the player must turn sideways using their back foot to fully drive his body onto the opponent. The player must also place his stick between the opponent’s legs while doing all this.

Players must have their full attention on the chest of the opponent rather than on the puck. If attention is diverted at the puck, the opponent can quickly change his body position to defuse the shoulder check, rendering it ineffective.

Hip Checks

Hip check is a body checking technique in which the player uses his hip to knock the opponent off the puck. To execute a hip check successfully, timing is critical.

The first thing that the player must do is to line up against the player’s shoulders like in a shoulder check. Then, in a single stride, they must move forward, bend their body at the waist and turn their hips to bash it against the opponent’s stomach, separating him from the puck.

The best place to use this technique is against the boards. As useful as this technique is, it is challenging to execute as even the slightest misalignment in timing can render it completely ineffective.

How to Teach Body Checking Skills

We’ve looked at the body checking skills and the foundational skills they require in detail. Let us now look at how a coach can effectively teach these vital defensive skills to their players.

When teaching body checking to young players, the most crucial aspect is to demonstrate the technique adequately before drilling the players. Also, since this is an extremely physical aspect of the game, coaches must work hard to build up the player’s confidence. A lack of confidence can not only render these techniques ineffective, but they can also lead to accidents.

Here are a few helpful tips for youth hockey coaches to try and implement as part of their training regime to better instill body checking skills on their players:

Be Mindful of the Players’ Age

Remember that you are dealing with young players who are practically still children. So, the physical aspect of the game can be too intense when first introduced to some of the players. There will be a fear factor that needs to be considered and eliminated early. Be mindful of this when developing the drills.

Gradually Increase the Intensity of the Drills

When first introducing body checking skills to players, make sure you focus on improving their confidence rather than making the situation too difficult for them right away. Conduct the drills at half the speed and instruct the opposition player to yield more easily.

As the players start gaining confidence, gradually increase the intensity of the drill to make the job more difficult for them.

Simulate Real Game Scenarios in Practice

You must drill the kids on body checking skills throughout the season. This isn’t one of those skills that you can focus on a single day of the training regime. Instead, it needs to be a part of the regular training session. When developing practice drills for the players, make sure you simulate real game scenarios as much as possible.

Be Mindful of the Players’ Strengths and Weaknesses

Be mindful of the individual strengths and weaknesses of each player. Also, be conscious of the techniques they use in each situation, and even the mistakes they make. This way, it will be easier to focus on the strengths and work on the weaknesses.

Give Importance to Body Play and Body Checking

Make sure you make body play and body checking a significant part of every training session. The more they practice, the more confident they become. Also, employ sufficient 1-on-1 and 2-on-1 drills so that the players learn how to work on each of these scenarios during the games.

Be Mindful of the Players’ Abilities

Coaches also need to be mindful of an individual player’s abilities. Since you are dealing with children, you need to understand that different kids grow at different rates. So when dealing with bantams, for instance, some kids may be well past their growth spurt while others may still be waiting for theirs to happen.

You must design drills and training sessions with individual abilities in mind. But also be careful not to coddle smaller players too much. Balance is key.

Be Mindful of the Players’ Safety

As a coach, you must also worry about your players’ safety. So rather than focusing solely on drilling your kids to body check opponents, you must also train them on how to deal with checks from the opponents. This is not just a safety issue, but can also be a very strategic component in teaching your players to keep possession of the puck.

Continue to Work on the Fundamentals

Ensure the players are well trained in the fundamental skills, according to the age-based training guide we will be sharing in the following section. Players need to have mastered the necessary skills like skating in all directions, rapidly changing directions, angling, stick checks, and body blocks before they can start drilling them on body checking skills.

Players must also continue to train on all of these fundamental techniques while they’re learning body checking.

The Age-Based Progression of Body Checking Skills

Junior hockey can be divided into five distinct age groups. And it is essential to introduce new and appropriate body checking skills for each group. We have discussed plenty of body checking skills and how you can teach them in the previous sections. Let us now see what each of the five age groups need to be working on:

Mite (8 and Under)

Mites or hockey players who are eight years old or younger are not ready just yet to learn body checking in its full intensity. During this phase, the most important thing to do is to let the child’s love for the game prevail.

Mites need to focus on skills like skating, balance, agility, and basic angling. They also need to be focusing on moves like stick press, stick lift, and poke check. They can practice skating through obstacle courses or participate in activities like relay races, challenge drills, or angling drills. They can also try some aggressive skating.

Squirt (10 and Under)

This is the phase when young players should first be introduced to some of the body plays of hockey. For the most part, squirts should continue practicing what they did as mites.

But in addition to what they’ve already been practicing, they need to start learning new skills like body blocking, taking the hands away, fore-checking and taking the lane. They can also improve on their skating ability by learning new skills like backward skating.

Instructors now need to focus more on one-on-one drills. They need to train squirts in one-on-one situations along with the boards and in offensive zones.

In addition to all this, this is also the right age group to start explaining defensive responsibilities. As a hockey player, defensive play will require a lot of body checking. Squirts need to be trained on how to force puck carriers wide to the near board. With regard to offensive play, squirts need to be trained on playing in front of the net and in defensive corners.

Peewee (12 and Under)

Peewee is the phase right before Bantam, so this is when the real body checking skills need to be introduced to the player. Mites and squirts mostly focus on skills that help in body checking. A peewee must actually start practicing some of the basic body checking skills.

In addition to reviewing all the previously taught skills, peewees need to start practicing the checking techniques. These include plenty of offensive and defensive drills where they learn how to take a check and give a check in both odd man (1-on-2, 2-on-1 and 3-on-2) and even man (1-on-1, 2-on-2, and 3-on-3) situations.

In addition to all these, peewees must also learn how to support a teammate who is checking an opponent. Players of the peewee age group must start learning about team systems. In addition to supporting their teammates, players must understand all about defensive zone coverages.

Bantam (14 and Under)

Bantams need to work hard to incorporate all of the previously learned skills into their game. In addition to the revision of basic skills, they must vastly improve their defensive play and the incorporation of team systems.

An effective training strategy for bantams includes drills for quick transition between offensive play to defensive play and vice versa. These drills help bantams incorporate quick reaction and decision making into their gameplay. This can become incredibly helpful when there is a rapid change in possession during games (which is a common occurrence in this intensive sport).

Coaches can get bantams to participate in a 5-on-5 play where they have to change between offensive and defensive roles rapidly.

Midget / High School (16 and Under / 18 and Under)

Training of a midget/high school level player differs a bit from the previous stages. For starters, players need to start working on their individual skills. Most body checking skills must be well-ingrained in the players by this stage. The training should focus more on a player’s personal responsibility based on their position in a specific game.

Coaches also need to train their players well on several different team systems at this point. These include the likes of defensive zone coverages and fore-checks. Players must also be well versed in the rapid transition from offence to defence and vice versa.

Closing Thoughts

Hockey is a physically demanding sport. At some point, young hockey players need to be introduced to the game’s more intensive aspects, like body checking. Before introducing body checking to young players, they need to master all the game’s fundamental elements, such as skating (in all directions, changing directions, and pivoting), angling, stick checks, and body blocks.

When introducing body checking techniques to the players, coaches must focus on a few primary aspects. They must first work on improving the confidence of the players before teaching them how to master the skill, and they must demonstrate each technique clearly before drilling the kids.

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