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Coaching your team simple defensive strategies

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Ok, a bit of a rant first. I am 47, I've been playing beer league hockey for the past 15 years or so (played house league as a kid). I've had success along the way, won a few beer league championships, and came close in some other years. I've played on some good teams, some mediocre, and some bad ones too. I work hard on improving my game, always trying to improve in one way or another (working out, stretching, working on reflexes, visualization, keeping game logs, researching solutions to problems, etc.....). I am a solid goaltender, with the occasional amazing effort type saves, that being said, I am not immune to letting in some bad goals occasionally. I am used to playing in leagues where the teams in the division were all relatively equal, but now I've moved to a smaller city, and my options for playing in a balanced league are very limited or non-existent, with a range of ex-pros to house league players. I started playing with a team last year, and right off the bat I could tell it was going to be tough. We lost a lot of games, some of them we lost very badly, which I find very frustrating, and I am not always able to just "shake it off". We seemed to get better near the end of the season, so not being a quitter I decided to give it another season. This season has been a bit better, with a few less lopsided losses, but it is still not going that well, and I am finding it very difficult to continue both physically and mentally. Physically I have a herniated disc which causes me quite a bit of discomfort after games, and after going through all the preparation to get ready to go out and play only to get destroyed is wearing on me mentally. I've always tried to bounce back by just continuing to focus on improving my game and working harder, but this is no longer cutting it.

So I am at a bit of a crossroads now, I can quit the team and hopefully find another, or stick it out and try to fix it. I know that we can do better if we just focus on some simple defensive strategies like:

  • One defenceman protects the house at all times in the defensive zone. So basically while one defenceman is defending the puck carrier, the other defenceman makes sure no one is uncovered in front/backdoor.
  • The centerman defends any other player trying to get open in front.
  • Use the boards to clear the zone, and avoid passing through the middle.
  • Try to minimize the odd man rushes by not pinching in the offensive zone, and being aware of the other team trying to slip past our defence.

So am I correct in the above, and is there anything else we should focus on?

Ideally I wish I didn't have to say anything, and just focus on my game. Standing up in the locker room before a game with a bunch of adults and telling them how to play defence is not something that I feel that comfortable with doing. I have conveyed my strategies in the past, and I've seen immediate results, but unfortunately we seem to revert to our old ways within a couple of games.

Looking for advice on some strategies, some effective way to communicate them with the team, and continue to reinforce it? Any other advice is welcome. Thanks

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The biggest challenge for me transitioning from competitive play to beer leagues was how the teams played in front of me.  I've played with all types of players in these leagues, ranging from people who have collected paychecks to play hockey all the way down to people putting on skates for the first time.  I've tried for years to get people to buy in to the systems I was taught, so good luck.

IMO:

  • Both D protect the slot at all times.  Never dip below the goal line.  Outnumbering the opposing team in your own zone is never a bad idea, especially if the other team has an overall higher skill level. If the puck goes behind the goal line, Center can  come in and apply pressure or presence there.
  • Forwards should never be standing still when D picks up the puck.  Support the puck, work to create lanes and options for the puck carrier.  Getting the puck up using the boards should not be a hard rule - if the other team is decently smart, they will pick up on this really quick and block off the boards.  Making a good pass to another player who is creating space should supersede everything else.  Give the puck carrier two or more options at all times.
  • D should never attack the puck or puckcarrier in any of the 3 zones. Skate backwards with the puck carrier with the intention of eliminating: time, space, or options.   If they have possession but your D has neutralized their ability to shoot or pass, then they really aren't doing much.
  • Never force a pass in any of the 3 zones.  Better to have the puck stripped than to make a bad pass directly to the opposing team (easier to apply back pressure from 1 foot away vs 5 feet away).  Constant movement and cycling in the offensive zone should create space and time that wasn't there before.  I see way too many mid to low end beer league teams set up in a 3-2 or 1-2-2 in the offensive zone at even strength and just stand around waiting to receive a pass.

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The best defense is a good offense. All these suggestions are good. but get your forwards involved, Help them understand their defensive assignments. But not just that. The forwards need to be cycling well and the defense needs to do a good job being a passing option in the offensive zone to keep from turning it over.

Good teams I've played for are responsible defensively. GREAT teams I've played for are effortless offensively. The "One man always stays back" strategy is just putting a band aid on a broken leg. If your team is able to cycle the puck on offense, your D has less to defend against, and you have fewer shots to save. As an added bonus, an increase in offensive cycling generates an increase in scoring, solving two problems at once. I much prefer now that my defense is up on the blue line keeping the puck in the zone than hanging out not doing shit in the defensive zone. I've also put a stop to the "put the slow or new kid on d". The best technical skaters on my team are on D. I will not let someone play D unless they can skate backwards (which is a challenge in C/D league sometimes). 

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35 minutes ago, goalieThreeOne said:

The best defense is a good offense. All these suggestions are good. but get your forwards involved, Help them understand their defensive assignments. But not just that. The forwards need to be cycling well and the defense needs to do a good job being a passing option in the offensive zone to keep from turning it over.

I know what you're trying to say, but I don't think it directly applies here. You can't just say "Be godly at offense!" as a defensive strategy. Even if you're playing for a lights out team that it heads above your competition, understanding proper defensive strategies/assignments is absolutely necessary. Plus this is about a fairly novice team that's struggling.

50 minutes ago, Chenner29 said:

The biggest challenge for me transitioning from competitive play to beer leagues was how the teams played in front of me.  I've played with all types of players in these leagues, ranging from people who have collected paychecks to play hockey all the way down to people putting on skates for the first time.  I've tried for years to get people to buy in to the systems I was taught, so good luck.

All great points, especially for a more novice team. One minor thing I'll add is use an active stick as a defenseman. I have a guy on my lower team that is far too passive when a winger is coming down on him. He has the right angle and mostly the right spacing, but he just sits and waits for the shot to go.

By having an active stick the very least you're doing is forcing the attacking player to make a less than ideal shot. You don't always need to deflect it or stop it, but by forcing his hand to shoot or make a move, it limits his ability to control his offensive situation.

Time and space are some key mantras to playing defense and you want to take as much away as you feasibly can.

Credentials: House defenceman for 12 years.

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2 hours ago, coopaloop1234 said:

By having an active stick the very least you're doing is forcing the attacking player to make a less than ideal shot. You don't always need to deflect it or stop it, but by forcing his hand to shoot or make a move, it limits his ability to control his offensive situation.

Time and space are some key mantras to playing defense and you want to take as much away as you feasibly can.

This right here is how defending theory should be taught. Sadly even at the NHL level, players are not following it. Instead they sag back passively to block a shot or chase the puck around or swipe at the puck and get burned. If NHL players can’t even defend properly, how can we expect weekend warriors to do so?

To the OP, I laughed when I saw your thread title. There ain’t no changing what beer leaguers do on the ice. You want an improved performance, get better players or join a better team. Twenty plus years of adult league sports has taught me no “team talk” is worth anything more than fodder for when beers are being consumed. 

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3 hours ago, coopaloop1234 said:

I know what you're trying to say, but I don't think it directly applies here. You can't just say "Be godly at offense!" as a defensive strategy. Even if you're playing for a lights out team that it heads above your competition, understanding proper defensive strategies/assignments is absolutely necessary. Plus this is about a fairly novice team that's struggling.

All great points, especially for a more novice team. One minor thing I'll add is use an active stick as a defenseman. I have a guy on my lower team that is far too passive when a winger is coming down on him. He has the right angle and mostly the right spacing, but he just sits and waits for the shot to go.

By having an active stick the very least you're doing is forcing the attacking player to make a less than ideal shot. You don't always need to deflect it or stop it, but by forcing his hand to shoot or make a move, it limits his ability to control his offensive situation.

Time and space are some key mantras to playing defense and you want to take as much away as you feasibly can.

Credentials: House defenceman for 12 years.

What I'm trying to say is don't neglect your offense in the pursuit of trying to reduce losses. All ships rise in a harbor.

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4 hours ago, goalieThreeOne said:

What I'm trying to say is don't neglect your offense in the pursuit of trying to reduce losses. All ships rise in a harbor.

I hear ya man, loud and clear. 

I think buddy's situation is more single ended though. Ya know. 

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I think aside from the technical defensive strategies for a moment, it would depend on how well you know your teammates on how I personally would move forward with this situation.

The team I'm on right now I would never dare to tell my teammates how to play. It's my first year in the league and I don't know anyone, plus everyone in the league has been playing hockey all their life (AA, AAA, Juniors, Pro, etc) and this is a competitive league. For example, we have been playing terrible these last few weeks and I expect better of them when they play, which includes my own game. However, It's not my place to tell them what to do/not do. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that and would feel like a grinch. Plus, we're all human and make mistakes. I sure wouldn't want my teammates commenting on how I play my game. Chances are, they wouldn't like it either.

However, on the flipside, If you've known these guys forever and maybe they are honestly willing to learn the position or get better at their defensive craft, then go for it. I would maybe approach it very lightly though. Maybe not a "team meeting" sort of way, more like a joking around, light-hearted conversation (like, "hey man, great play, but next time try and do this and this, etc"), followed up with positive reinforcment in the coming games ("love what you did there Jim, that's just what we talked about earlier. Thanks so much. Keep at it!") to get them more confident with one defensman at a time over the course of a few weeks.

They don't need a serious group discussion or something like that. They just want to have fun and relax a little, so I get it. If they want to get better, great, find small opportunities to teach 'em. If not? Well, it's beer league. The goal is not about having x amount of skill or making sure to "bring your A game" every week, it's about having fun. Cheesy? Yes, but it's true. I need to remind myself of that all the time since I can get competitive and hard on myself at times.

I love this topic though. Thanks for creating it. I think we've all been there man.

Edited by creasecollector

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I'm constantly talking (shouting) to my team during plays. I'll let them know if they've got time or are being pressured when retrieving a puck, I'll yell "CLEAR" or "BOARDS" or "ICE IT" if we're getting hemmed into our zone, "CHIP" and "CHASE" if they're getting stood up on zone entries, and "POINT" or "CYCLE" when they're in the offensive zone. (And lots of other things, just so long as you can clearly enunciate it in one or two syllables. Like "PLAY HIM" if I want them to take the shooter on a 2-on-1, or "PASS" if I want them to take the pass away).

It makes a big difference. Seriously. Lots of career rec-leaguers kinda stop thinking when they're on the ice, and little bit of in-the-moment guidance (even if you're at the other end of the ice) can make them aware of potential plays that, in their tunnel vision, they don't see.

Edited by CJ Boiss
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First, I think your idea is sound and I suspect successful beer league teams have this communication at some level. Unfortunately I have to agree with @WillyGrips13.

Ask yourself this – how many of your teammates are now (or have recently been) on any forum asking how they can improve their play or make their team better? I’ll give you a hint, it’s probably a number shaped like a donut. Further, after the game, do you hear guys talking between themselves saying things like “on that odd man rush we should have done xxx”?  

We as goalies tend to be just as you stated in your OP – trying to constantly improve our game,.. Why? Because when a goal happens we tend to place the responsibility directly on our own shoulders. Forwards and D can make a mistake that lead to a goal but they tend to slough it off – too bad the tender didn’t stop that one…. Forwards and D  rarely tend to think about improvement on a personal level and pretty well never on a holistic level – which is what you are trying to do. In the case of the latter, that is exactly why some  teams never improve – their thinking is if we play enough together we will gel and become a super team. While that may be true, most of us aren’t going to live long enough for that to evolve. So they have a beer, pack their bags and dream about that “someday” when it magically happens, with no extra effort.

I guess the real question is, is there people on your team that you believe are approachable and would accept input? Using baby steps, you could sell it by approaching your D  with the question of knowing what they want (i.e. “how/where would you like me to set the puck on a shoot in?”). I bet from there you could generate some two way conversation that could be very fruitful. Even if you can engage one person away from the game it will probably snowball. In this case , @CJ Boiss'comment  comes into play – I tend to do the same, calling out specifics to my D. I occasionally have some fellows tell after the game tell me it is helpful. That would be the person I would target for discussion.

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I dont tell my teammates on any team how to play their position. I figure if i wouldnt like being told by them how to do mine, i wouldnt think theyd enjoy it back.

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@Max27 I agree - it certainly can be a touchy issue. I think you have to sell it as "how we can better work together to reduce GA". A good approach is a suggestion about how a change in their play that can help you, as opposed to making it about their shortcomings.

Of course, there will always be the guys who's only reply is "just do your job and stop the puck". If you have a bunch of those people on your team, you are doomed to stagnate...

Having said all that - I would gladly take input from my team - they watch me play all the time. I would love to have them say something like "you are getting beat on X play because of Y". Of course that assumes they know a thing about goaltending - which most don't. I made a comment to someone the other day that, because goalies are always watching and involved in the game, and are always trying to figure out what a forward will do, we  probably know a lot more about the other 2 positions than they ever will about ours.

Edited by Colander

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This is entirely dependent on what level of beer league you may be playing. I currently play in two different that are both dramatically different in terms of skill level. That, in itself, is sometimes difficult for me to navigate. On one of these teams, one of the defense pairings is typically the best player on the team with the worst player in the league (not hyperbole). I wouldn't dare tell either of them what to do - one guy is just gonna do the job every time and one guy finds an acorn occasionally. On this same team, another d-man is very receptive to coaching. He's solid, but he often plays angles too tight, so I get screened. I have no problem being screened if the guy can block a shot, but this is beer league... blocked shots are merely a coincidence. 

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