When I finished playing minor hockey over 30 years ago there was no such thing as ‘spring hockey’. Today it’s become nothing more than a huge money making business. However, is it really needed? And does it really help improve a young hockey player’s on-ice skills and performance?
I can tell you one thing for sure, it’s incredibly expensive and for what? A great experience no doubt, but what about the physical and psychological effects on the body? Playing more hockey doesn’t necessarily make a player better, but improving specific on-ice skills and increasing strength performance definitely will.
If minor hockey players aren’t physically and mentally exhausted after a long regular season, now they are driving their bodies further into exhaustion, creating more physical imbalances and in some cases, which I’ve seen, mentally burning out from hockey. Aside from the experience playing in highly competitive tournaments, spring hockey eats up the most valuable time of a young player’s development. Springtime should be used to get stronger and more powerful in the attempt to increase performance and compete at a higher level for the next season.
After a long regular season it’s very important for minor hockey players to take a break and revive their bodies. This is what’s called a regeneration phase where players should be taking care of any imbalances that occur from the over-use of specific muscle groups. Hockey is a very unique sport where players are constantly in unnatural positions and can develop very tight over-used muscles, leading to flexibility and mobility concerns. A regeneration phase is very important in order to continually perform at a high level, and if these things are not addressed during specific times of the year players risk their chance of becoming injured. Spring hockey can further lead to physical imbalances and injuries.
During a regeneration phase minor hockey players should be starting a spring strength-training program in order to be ready for a conditioning phase in the summer. I don’t have to try and sell anyone on strength training, I’m telling you it’s a mandatory component of the whole hockey development process and every professional strength coach will tell you the same. The best investment anyone can make is starting a spring strength-training program, and it’s a fraction of the cost of spring hockey. If a young hockey player is not using their time wisely to get stronger they are going to limit their potential for performing at a higher level in the future. Kids are training harder than ever today putting time into the gym to get stronger, and it clearly shows on the ice. You can always work on your skills but you can never make up for lost time in the gym.
I’ve had many players register for my summer conditioning program after spring hockey and their bodies are so beaten up in takes most of the summer just to fix these imbalances and flexibility issues. Not only that but it leaves no time to build up any real increase in strength over the summer. Remember to use the entire year wisely and map out the best route to take in order to continually improve performance for every season to come. Below is proper yearly plan for every minor hockey player to consider when looking to continually improve year after year and stay ahead of the competition.
OCTOBER TO MARCH – REGULAR SEASON TEAM TRAINING
- Light strength and conditioning 1x per week
- Maintain or increase flexibility and mobility
- Continue nutritional education
- Address injury and postural concerns
- Practice on-ice skills training
APRIL TO JUNE – SPRING STRENGTH AND POWER
- Regeneration phase (improving flexibility and mobility)
- Improve tissue quality (massage, foam roll, chiro, physio etc.)
- Prescribe re-corrective exercises to fix any imbalances
- High intensity resistance training 2-3x per week
- On-ice skills training 1-2x per week
JULY TO AUGUST – HOCKEY SPECIFIC CONDITIONING
- Full body circuit training 2-3x per week
- High intensity interval training 1-2x per week
- Transitional speed training and linear sprint work
- Focus on hydration and nutrition
- Start on-ice training near end of August