Teaching Defense to 7-Year-Olds
I recently received an email asking about 1 on 1 strategy for 7-year-old defensemen. The coach asked whether he should be teaching the players to play it skating backward (even though they don’t skate well backward yet), or starting forward then pivoting backward, or something else altogether.
I thought it was a great topic for discussion, and one I’m currently dealing with as well, since I’m working with the same age group on my son’s team. So… as I always say, here’s my two cents worth:
Angle First, then Build to Backwards
Most 7-year-olds aren’t capable of skating backwards well enough to play a proper 1 on 1. But there are still 1 on 1s in games. So what do you do? Here’s my strategy:
- Put your most experienced players on defense. This will give you a better chance at managing your opponents’ better players, and you’ll still be able to use them to generate a lot of offense.
- If you’re playing cross-ice 4 on 4, as per ADM’s recommendations, run 3 forwards and 1 defenseman.
- Teach your forwards to pressure hard in the corners, and crash the net on shots, and backcheck hard on turnovers.
- Teach your defensemen to angle the puck carrier to the boards, keeping stick on stick, and shoulder on shoulder. This is your immediate solution to 1 on 1s
- In the meantime, work hard on backward skating in practice.
- Once backward skating is proficient (usually about half-way through the last year of squirt for your top kids), introduce and transition your defensemen to play the 1 on 1’s in the conventional way.
- Teach gap control and body and stick positioning
SIDE NOTE: As your lesser-experienced players begin improve, let them play some defense too. Start them as two-man units, angling. Eventually progress them to play the conventional 1 on 1.