Earlier this week, my girls hockey players were working on full-ice 1v1 drills and I had to admit I was frustrated at their lack of gap control. To be fair, one of the hardest things for all hockey players to do (especially defensemen) is to keep a tight gap in a one-on-one open-ice situation. It takes great timing, quick feet and guts to get a tight gap and keep it when just a little mistake could result in a breakaway.
It’s just so much easier to keep a larger gap. But then you are giving the offensive player complete control of the play. Although playing defense is a much more reactive position than playing forward, girls hockey defensemen tend to be far too passive through the neutral zone and into the defensive zone.
So how do you get better at gap control?
You have to be willing to fail.
Get over the fear of getting beat.
When I first moved out to Calgary, I was playing defense against some of the best women’s hockey players in the world – Wickenheiser, Goyette, Campbell. I was scared that they were going to make me look ridiculous in the 1v1 full-ice drills – and to be honest, they did. For the first few weeks of practice, I looked like a human turnstile. I was really trying to tighten the gap because I knew that was what I had to do as a defenseman to stand-out and show that I could play with the best in the world. I had to put my ego aside and allow myself to learn from my mistakes. By the second month of the season, I was still losing some 1v1 battles, but not nearly as often as I was in the beginning.
You have to be willing to get beat one-on-one 9 times out of 10, and realize that the one time you didn’t get beat because of your tight gap is the true confidence builder. Every time you lose the battle, you learn what to change for the next battle. You have to be willing to get outside of the your comfort zone and do what other players aren’t willing to do.
Most girls hockey players just play with the big (safe) gap and never try to tighten it up. They just play passive defense, backing in on their own goalie and giving control to the attacking players.
If you want to be like everyone else, do whatever everyone else does.
If you want to be different, you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.
If you want to make significant improvements, you have to be willing to fail.
Those short-term failures will lead to your long-term success.
Work Hard, Dream BIG.
Your friend and coach,