Photo Credit: Silverpeak Studios
Identifying 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 everyone has the opportunity to try different positions. That includes goaltending, as the uniqueness of the position can often limit those exposed to it until they actually try it.
When Laval Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard found himself shorthanded with injuries in a game last season, he moved a defenceman up to play forward. The next game he scored a powerplay goal.
The idea of playing all positions is encouraged in minor hockey as kids are still learning the basic techniques and skills of the game. From skating to shooting, only allowing a player to be at one spot on the ice gives them just one perspective of how to interpret the game.
“I think everyone can benefit from playing all the positions,” said NHL veteran Karl Alzner. “You can see what the forward has to do. Whenever you come out of the box as a defenceman and then you’re playing D-zone, and then you have to be winger? You’re like, ‘what’s going on?’ You’ve no idea, and it’s so weird to have guys on either side of you. So just being put in that situation I think you can appreciate what everybody does a little bit more.”
Bouchard thinks every player in minor hockey should play every position.
“When a dad comes to me and says, ‘My kid’s a centre’ ... He’s 12. Hey, he’s not a centre; he’s a hockey player. Play him every position,” said Bouchard. “This is so wrong. We should force in the minor hockey kids should play five game at each position. I’ve been saying it for years. Years. In Junior I had [forwards] playing defence and defence going forward all the time.”
Bouchard points towards the numbers. When he breaks it down, you realize that limiting yourself to one position can actually hinder a development opportunity.
“You want to have a job in hockey? You can have 12 jobs if you’re a forward. If you’re a centre you have four,” he continued. “‘I’m only going to be a left D.’ Oh yeah? Okay, perfect. We only have three jobs. You play left and right, you have six.”
Learning why it is important for defencemen to join the offensive rush or for forwards to back-check can be taught through situations like these. Playing just one position narrows the focus and creativity of young players at a time when they should be encouraged to try new things. Know a defenceman who can improve their puckhandling? Give them some time with the puck on their stick with the forward group. Is there a forward who struggles to know their place on the ice on defence? Stick them on the blueline and they’ll be the first ones back on the backcheck.
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.
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 all players.
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