When it comes to understanding what proper training looks like for players at the minor hockey level, parents can often be confused or blindly miss-led into following all the hype. Forget about Sidney Crosby’s Reebok commercials and anything else you see the pros do. It’s important to remember that off-ice training development is no different than the process of on-ice skill work. You have to learn to walk before you can run and if you don’t have a foundation from, which to build upon then you can risk the potential to perform at a higher level in the future.
Hockey Canada’s Long-Term Development Plan is designed based on the science of youth development and maturation. Understanding the bio-motor pattern development and anatomical structure of youth is incredibly important in the design of proper off-ice training programs. There has to be a reason and a goal behind what any athlete at any age is doing when it comes to designing a training program and no, kids are not too young to train. Just look at how young kids are, who get involved in gymnastics. They are perfect examples of developing incredible athletic skills of strength, flexibility, mobility, stability, balance and power.
In my twelve years of experience working with athletes at different ages, I’ve seen incredibly gifted abilities and I’ve also seen some kids that have very poor athletic skills despite how good they may be in their sport. This leads to the obvious fact that every kid should not be doing the same type of generic cookie cutter program. Or even worse, training kids like adults with absolutely no care for their different level of maturation and physical abilities. Some kids simply aren’t ready for certain types of training due to being a little behind in growth. An experienced professional should consider each athletes specific needs such as mobility or flexibility issues, postural concerns or imbalances by testing and assessing their bio-mechanical abilities.
It takes hours upon hours of practical training experience and applying different techniques to know what works and what doesn’t work to get results out of athletes at any age. As I’ve learned over the years what it takes to achieve results I’ve also realized I need to know more about developing proper training programs for hockey players. What I’ve learned two years ago has changed dramatically. The science behind training is constantly changing and evolving in order to seek better training methods and produce better results.
The goal and needs of the athlete dictates the design of the program. Every athlete has different abilities and requires specific types of training. Regardless of the sport, young athletes need a variety of training stimulus to build well-rounded athletic skills. There is no magic fix or short-term super-duper training program that will transform any young hockey player into a number one draft pick. It is a long-term process of developing proper skills and building on a foundation in order to achieve greater results in the future. I’ve worked with many high school hockey players that haven’t had proper training when they were young and I’ve had to start developing them from scratch. Not only re-teach proper techniques but re-correct body mechanics in order for them to properly perform exercises effectively and efficiently using the right muscles.
One of the most important things about my job is to educate parents about proper training for young hockey players. The perception of a young athlete using a six pound medicine ball seems ok, but when you put a six pound dumbbell in their hand all of a sudden it’s viewed as dangerous. There’s no difference between a six pound medicine ball and a six pound dumbbell. As long as the joints are not overloaded and kids are not performing excessive repetitions, there is no reason to suggest that lifting weights is dangerous. It’s the amount of resistance or intensity of the load that needs to be considered for what is safe and appropriate.
Body weight exercises are perfectly appropriate and preferred for young hockey players and should be practiced in a freely progressive program that emphasizes good coaching and instruction. Not until kids turn 13 or 14 years old should they start learning how to properly lift heavier weights. It’s very important at this age that hockey players learn how to use proper lifting techniques for power and strength, ultimately leading to muscle hypertrophy. Remembering that only, and I mean only when hockey players learn and master the basics should they advance into a more structured weight lifting program to produce greater results in strength, power and speed.
In conclusion, there is no secret to producing results at any age for young hockey players. Kids are like sponges and will pretty much see results doing anything, if it is designed in a safe progressively appropriate manner. If there’s any secret at all, it’s knowing how to inspire and motivate young hockey players to believe in themselves and work hard. Confidence is everything, and my goal is to help inspire a young hockey player’s ability to believe they can accomplish any challenge put in front of them. If you have a good understanding for learning the basics of athletic skill-sets then you can learn how to advance to a level that will set you well on your way to performing to your true potential.