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How to Get Your Teammates to Play Defense

04/14/2015, 12:00pm MDT
By Michael Rand

Adult hockey leagues are inherently stocked with different types of players. They have varying ability levels even within the same league classification. They are of different ages and backgrounds.

A more subtle difference, though, is how each player competes.

Some of us are inherently wired to give 110 percent effort in every situation, particularly a game. On the ice, this personality might manifest itself in the willingness to dive to block a shot during a game of shinny down at the pond.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those more inclined to coast – they want to win, but if there’s a choice between skating back to break up a 3-on-2 rush or catching a little breather while hoping teammates will poke the puck free and spring an offense chance in the other direction … well, the way they’re anchored to the offensive blue line will tell you their choice.

Getting every player to pull in one direction is difficult, just as it is with any team in any sport, but the second group of players tends to drive the first group of players crazy.

If you find yourself in the first group, you’ve probably given up on trying to get everyone to care as much as you. At this point, you’d settle for this: how do you get everyone on the team to give an honest effort on defense?

For suggestions, we sprinkled in consensus advice from several players with comments from Chris Margiotta, the adult hockey director at Allen (Texas) Community Ice Rink. Their approaches to problem-solving might not be entirely conventional, but practical solutions that ruffle some feathers are better than no solutions at all.

The Direct Approach

If you are a leader on your team – and chances are, if you are one of the more competitive players who are being driven crazy by a lazy teammate, you are a leader – establish clear expectations for the other players on the ice.

Not only is it important for everyone to play defense, it is basic strategy. If someone is cherry-picking down by the blue line, he or she is probably hanging your goalie and teammates out to dry, not to mention making it tougher in many cases to generate offense.

“Call your teammates out,” Margiotta says, “and let them know that it is next to impossible to get them the puck when you have five of their players between you and them.”

The Indirect Approach

If you’ve established expectations and nothing is changing, sometimes actions speak louder than words.

An offensive player who coasts and doesn’t play defense is clearly more interested in scoring than playing a complete team game. If they refuse to play defense, why should you give them what they want?

“Do not pass the puck to these floaters,” Margiotta says, “unless they are contributing to the team (on) the defensive side of the ice.”

Granted, this could be detrimental to the team if the offensive-minded player is a gifted player who helps the team score goals. But as a temporary measure to reinforce the need for two-way play, it could be effective.

If they don’t take the hint, Margiotta says, there’s always this: “Have your defensemen skate the puck up and dump it into the attacking zone.”

Again, this isn’t the perfect solution and might come off as passive-aggressive. Margiotta acknowledges that it’s “somewhat spiteful.”

But desperate times call for desperate measures. If it causes a change in behavior, or at least makes offenders realize just how much their teammates dislike their style of play, it could be worth it.

The Last Resort

If the situation gets so bad that nothing else can be done, maybe consider whether you want a player who won’t play defense on your team at all.

“In the extreme case you can cut this player from your roster,” Margiotta says, “if they do not want to play as part of a team.”

And that is what it comes down to – playing a complete game is about being a good teammate. Not everyone will give maximum effort every minute of every game. That’s an understandable part of human nature.

But when those coasting shifts and lack of defensive hustle become the rule rather than the exception, you don’t have to put up with it.

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