Kim McCullough

Body Checking in Girls' Hockey

By Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS

There is no full body checking in girls’ hockey, but there is checking. Checking is an essential skill for all hockey players - girls’ included. The bone-crushing body checks you see in NHL games are the highest and most aggressive level of checking. But there are 4 stages of checking below that all players must perfect - angling, containing, pressuring, contact, and then body checking. Boys are taught the essential aspects of contact very early on. Most boys practices I watch incorporate checking during their drills. But these skills are rarely addressed in the girls’ game at all.


I believe that checking in general is rarely addressed because we don’t have full body checking. Since we don’t have that high level of contact, most coaches neglect to teach the lower levels - and that is a very dangerous mistake. Girls must be comfortable giving and taking contact in order to be effective players - no matter what competitive level they are playing at. To be honest, most of the concussions and head injuries I have seen over the past 15 years in the female game have been as a result of players not knowing how to protect themselves properly in contact situations. This is not just about the player being checked - it is often the person giving contact who ends up injured as well.

Most fundamentally, girls’ hockey players need to learn how to get low and stay low on the ice. This includes when they have and don’t have the puck. Players must learn how to keep their heads up at all times so that they are aware of what’s going on around them. This is a particular problem in girls’ hockey as players tend to handle the puck with their head down because they aren’t as worried about getting hit as boys are. This is about being conscious of what’s going on out on the ice. You can ask any guy who has played hockey with body checking and he will say that he is always conscious of the fact that he could get hit at any time. Girls simply don’t think about this. Often times it seems as though they are skating around with blinders on - oblivious to all the aspects of the game going on around them.

Once players are able to stay low and play heads up hockey, then we must get them comfortable with both giving and receiving contact. Most importantly, players must learn how to check effectively in open ice, along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. It is essential for coaches of all age groups to incorporate drills into their practices that address these areas. Girls are simply not as naturally aggressive as guys are and are not as “excited” about the physical aspects of hockey as the boys are. They need to understand what it is they are doing, want to know why they are doing it and then have to be given ample time to practice it before they feel fully confident in a game to try it.

The other interesting part about checking as it relates to girls’ hockey is that girls are very worried about taking penalties. It’s not because they don’t want to be in the penalty box - that’s certainly part of it though. It is mainly that they don’t want to let down their team and put them at a disadvantage. Quite often, your more naturally physical and aggressive players get more penalties at the younger levels and then start to back off the physical side of their game. This is very common - and not ideal. Being a naturally aggressive player in girls’ hockey is a GREAT asset. When college coaches talk to me about players they are recruiting, they always talk about how much they love naturally aggressive players. Why? Because it is much harder to teach a passive player how to be aggressive than it is to show an aggressive player how to keep the physical aspects of their game without taking penalties. This can be taught - but again, it helps tremendously if players are taught checking skills from a very early age and continue to develop those skills as the game gets faster and the players get bigger and stronger.

To get complete access to articles, videos and secrets that addresses the specific needs of female hockey players, visit Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain at Dartmouth and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is currently the Girls Hockey Director at the PEAC School for Elite Athletes in Toronto and is the Founder of Total Female Hockey.

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