Summer is long over, but hopefully those who are serious about improving their performance for the hockey season have prepared accordingly. In this article I want to share my perspective on in-season training for minor hockey players. Let’s start by going back again and ask ourselves, “are we crazy about putting our kids in strength and conditioning programs at the minor hockey level?” The answer is, absolutely not.
Ask yourself this: would you expect a player at the junior level to all of a sudden start training to build size, strength and speed without any early development in their minor years? Off-ice development is no different than on-ice skill development. You have to build a foundation and have a proper training system in order to progress young for long-term success.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends that kids can start developing athletic skill sets as early as six years old. Hockey Canada also provides specific guidelines for long-term development and again starting as early as six years old. The International Youth Conditioning Association follows the same program model for developing athletes at an early age and sets specific guidelines based on the paediatric science for what is appropriate for young athletes to participate in.
Much of what is instructed for specific age groups also relies on the maturity and social level of athletes in certain age groups. Really, if an athlete is socially mature enough to understand and listen to proper instruction then they can advance to a greater level than someone who just isn’t ready to handle a disciplined training program regardless of age. I’ve trained ten year old hockey players who are more focused, determined and mature than most 14-15 year olds. So age is not a factor when trying to understand how important it is to learn and master athletic skill sets off the ice in order to perform better on the ice.
I’m not talking about lifting weights at ten years old, let’s clarify that right away. Don’t misinterpret lifting weight with ‘resistance training’. If kids aren’t training with resistance then they aren’t going to progress and improve. There is a big misconception that weight lifting is just bench pressing and squatting and overall dangerous. Forget about that for a minute and understand that it should really be understood as resistance training, which could be simply using a band, medicine ball or even more effectively a kids’ own body weight (that’s resistance training). When a ten year old performs a body weight squat they are resisting gravity, which has absolutely no external loading of the joints and is completely safe, and incredibly effective for improving strength and performance.
In-season training for teams should focus on bonding and building character and confidence. It should be about creating positive outcomes and challenge players to believe in their potential. At the same time we must make sure that a huge part of the program is fun and interactive which involves positive coaching methods. Also following proper guidelines and principles of exercise physiology is absolutely critical for long-term development. No program should consist of random, non-purpose exercises just to satisfy the trainer and give a false sense of working hard for the here and now.
A proper progressive long-term development off-ice team training program should be specific to the demands of hockey and customized to suit each players goals based on the results of their performance testing. Teams should be tested based on their flexibility and mobility levels as well as hockey specific performance abilities. These results should be recorded and passed on to coaches in order to communicate how to measure a team’s progress and know what to look for during the season. Injury prevention is the number one priority when designing a program for team training and coaches should make sure to research a qualified and experienced trainer to conduct proper protocols for their team during the in-season.
After all, it’s about getting results and if you don’t have the resources which to tangibly see progress from the team and each individual then you have to question your investment in team training.