Hockey, at any level, is a physical sport. That rings true for both the boys’ and girls’ game.
Sometimes, teaching contact in the girls’ game is overlooked because there’s “no checking.” However, contact shouldn’t be ignored when developing youngsters and learning at an early age can help in the long run.
Jessica Christopherson, head coach of girls’ hockey at Wayzata High School, and Winny Brodt-Brown, Minnesota’s first recipient of the Ms. Hockey Award, weigh in on the importance of introducing body contact to girls.
Demystifying “No” Contact
Just because girls’ and women’s hockey is “no-check” doesn’t mean there’s no contact. However, because the rules don’t allow for checking, often times the physical part of the sport is not taught at a young age. This mentality is bad for girls learning the game as they grow into teenage and young women hockey players.
“There is actually quite a lot of contact in the girls’ and women’s game,” said Christopherson, who serves as the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association president. “You don’t see the huge, deliberate hits like you do in the men’s game, but there is plenty of physicality.”
Coaches need to emphasize there is indeed contact in the girls’ game. As girls progress, just like in the boys’ game, it becomes more and more physical.
“The play gets faster and there’s going to be more body contact,” Brodt-Brown said. “If you go watch a college game, it’s not checking, but it’s close – there’s contact and bodies are hitting the boards.”
Angling, Containing and Pressuring
Angling is a way of closing off space from offensive player. At any level, it’s one of the first skills youngsters are taught before engaging in contact. Angling, containing and pressuring are things that players can begin to learn while developing basic skills like skating, puck-handling and passing.
“[Angling, containing and pressuring] are part of the game at any level,” Christopherson wrote. “Skill development is the number one thing at the younger levels, but part of skill development is ice awareness and the ability to force turnovers, halt rushes, separate players from the puck, etc., and all of those things are more than likely going to include some contact.”
Angling drills allow kids to feel contact in a controlled environment. Playing keepaway with the back to the defender, wide drive races and steering drills are controlled environments where players can learn these skills. Small-area games also force them to make plays in tight areas, which can help kids develop on-ice awareness and hockey sense.
By exposing young players to these types of drills, coaches can follow a progression of contact confidence and body contact skills starting at the 8U level. Players who experience contact situations in every practice are more likely to be comfortable being physical – both on the giving and receiving end.
“In angling, if you’re doing it properly, you’re going to be taking the body,” Brodt-Brown said. “But just as important as giving contact, is learning how to receive it.”
Brodt-Brown, a former standout at the University of Minnesota, learned a lot from playing boys’ hockey growing up.
“You had to put yourself in good position against the boards and other areas because you always had to be prepared to be hit,” Brodt-Brown said. “You always had to have your guard up. Girls might not have their guard up because they think they’re not going to get hit.”
Being prepared for contact, both mentally and physically, can help reduce injuries.
“Giving and receiving contact is and will always be part of the game,” Christopherson said. “Many injuries could be avoided (on both sides of contact) if the player was better prepared.”
Brodt-Brown agrees that injuries and concussions in girls’ and women’s hockey could be reduced, and are often a result of not being taught to prepare for a collision.
“I think there will be fewer injuries – just knowing how to take contact and put yourself into position will help overall,” Brodt-Brown said. “In boys’ hockey they’re hitting a lot harder, so that tells me that we need to do a better job of teaching girls how to take body contact at an early age.
“That would help the girls’ game because a player’s head will have to be up if someone is angling them. It’s not necessarily a check; it’s just a good defensive play.”