Unfamiliar Territory: Why are Young Players Struggling with the Defensive Side of the Game?

Everyone knows you practice like you play, but why in the hell are some coaches forgetting to battle in practice?

One of the biggest take aways this season when I’ve talked to players and parents is that “no we don’t do that in practice, we don’t do battle drills.”

What? How can that be? It’s everything, everything starts in your own zone.

I’ve asked several players this season if they practice small area games and battle drills. The answer

is always no. Well I shouldn’t say that, they usually pause briefly to choose the right words and then it’s usually “no, not really.”

Well, what’s not really mean?

Obviously, with COVID restrictions in place, coaches had to constantly adjust their practice plans and schemes. Battle drills weren’t allowed for the longest time. Clearly some teams were able to do it, while others weren’t. When restrictions were finally lifted or eased slightly teams and coaches started playing inter-squad games with very little contact.

COVID has made it extremely difficult for kids to play the game and practice, but the lack of angling, stick on stick play, proper body positioning, defensive accountability and play with and without the puck in traffic has been in decline well before the start of the pandemic.

Obviously, the game has changed it’s a lot quicker out there, but when broken down the game is a series of battles in small areas. Stick on stick and angling drastically help in containing and simplifying the game when it comes to the defensive side of things. Implementing battle drills into regular practice plans is a must. Players should experience those types of drills at least once every practice. Hell the NHL does it.

Now that doesn’t mean taking runs at guys, and crushing your teammates in practice. Battle drills or small area games should be an integral part of every practice, every player should be held accountable and take ownership of the defensive game. Working on this aspect of the game is all part of a chaining process that links the defensive zone concepts from the individual to a team dynamic or concept.

I find it extremely interesting that by all accounts players at various levels of the game don’t practice 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 battles. Hell they don’t even do 1 on 1’s or 2 on 1’s in practice. I’ve had some players say that they don’t even practice with pressure and if they do it’s very limited.

Whatever happened to you play like you practice?

Well I guess it doesn’t apply to some coaches and teams.

I don’t have to talk about the importance of this stuff, we all know it, the real question is why isn’t it being done more. Why are the defensive principles of the game not being taught and reinforced. Sure, we addressed the COVID issues, but the trend was starting way before that. Young players don’t know how to contain, they struggle defending in open ice and in small areas in the defensive zone. To be brutally honest with you the emphasis on the defensive side of the game is appears to be at an all time low. For some young players navigating their own zone is

unfamiliar territory, they’re completely lost.

Think about these questions when reflecting on the overall season of development.

How many times have you witnessed battle drills or small area high traffic drills taking place in your child’s practices?

Are they corrected when they make a mistake or lose their check?

Are the defenders stuck flipped over when defending?

How many 1 on 1’s and 2-1’s and zone eateries do your child’s team work on each practice?

Does your child’s team have pressure when implementing certain drills?

Is the defensive side of the game even being taught, emphasized and celebrated?

Does your child’s team practice like they play?

The answer to that one is probably a pretty loaded one. Nevertheless, let’s hope all the coaches are practicing what the preach especially when it comes to the defensive side of the game.

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