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When should players pick a position?

By Dan Pollard, 01/30/18, 1:15PM EST


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Photo Credit: Julie Whelan Photography

Figuring out which position your child will play is typically easy when they're still young—it often translates to what they want to do most: score goals. But despite the allure of knocking in that game-winning goal, not everyone can be a forward. As your child grows older and moves away from the pack of 10 chasing the puck, positions become more defined and more important.

We often discuss building rounded athletes and how playing multiple sports can help in this case. The same applies when narrowing the focus down to just hockey. Giving players different opportunities to play various positions on the ice can help their overall development as a player. Showing them how the ice looks from different perspectives gives them an idea of spacing and how positions can react to certain scenarios.

By rotating players, it gives everyone the opportunity to try different positions. That includes goaltending as well, as the uniqueness of the position can often limit those exposed to it until they actually try it.

"you may be a defenceman but you may not be the first person back into the zone. There has to be some familiarity. I think it’s going to improve the player’s overall experience, their ability by having some exposure to playing all positions."

“I think everyone should try all the different positions. At the younger age groups, we would encourage that there aren’t full-time goalies, that there’s an opportunity to rotate… I would say the ability for everyone to learn how to skate, to understand the other positions is very important,” said Ian Taylor, Executive Director of the OMHA.

There is a common misconception that offence only comes from forwards but in today’s game that simply isn’t the case anymore. Teams are attacking and defending as five strong.

“That’s the concept of team offence and team defence. Everyone’s involved. The five-player unit is involved in every element of offence and defence,” said Kevin Hamilton, Director of Hockey Development in the OMHA.

Plus, if defencemen aren’t encouraged to handle the puck or integrated into strategy, who would want to play the position? Defencemen don’t just defend. Brent Burns finished ninth in NHL scoring last season.

“That also helps players to experience multiple positions. If I’m a forward and I kind of have a sense of knowing what defencemen are doing or what their role is or how they play, it’s going to help me understand how to be better offensively against them,” said Hamilton.

“You’re going to learn concepts of pressure, contain, stick in the lane, how to forecheck, how to defend, how to layer. Those concepts should be universal,” added Taylor. “I think the other thing that comes into it, you may be a defenceman but you may not be the first person back into the zone. There has to be some familiarity. I think it’s going to improve the player’s overall experience, their ability by having some exposure to playing all positions.”

When players are inevitably away for a game or suffer an injury, it’s often that a player from internally needs to fill in at a different position.

“Everybody wants their kid to be the one who scores the game-winning goal in overtime to win the championship. The reality is, one, that’s not going to happen and two, that’s not the only thing that should be valued,” said Taylor.

Photo Credit: Julie Whelan Photography

Coaches can spend the first half of the season rotating players and use the second half to slot players in where they think players are most comfortable or could thrive.

The key in all of this is building a toolbox of skills that can be transferrable no matter what position on the ice. Teaching technical skills and team tactics that can apply to any team strategy is beneficial for players.

Another tip from Hamilton is that, where possible, communication occurs between coaches to ensure continuity in player development. Atom coaches should check in with the previous year’s Novice coaches and see what was taught and where the team should focus on improving. It’s like building a curriculum in school, where the Grade 4 teacher knows what was taught in Grade 3 and so on.

There is no universal answer for when players should pick a position. It comes with a combination of age, comfort and level of hockey being played but the benefits of being exposed to everywhere on ice is valuable before a decision has been made.

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Dan Pollard is the host of Breakaway, The Minor Hockey Podcast. His passion for hockey led him to volunteer as a coach and administrator while his professional career has allowed him to cover the game at various levels with CBC, Sportsnet, the NHL Network and TSN. You can currently hear Dan every morning on 105.5 Hits FM in Uxbridge.

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