Specific and measurable off-season training

In the last post I explained how hard work and consistency of training do not necessarily translate to improved on-ice performance for hockey. As well, they are no guarantee that the potential for injury will be reduced. In this post I’ll share what the components of a off-season hockey training program should be.

The first thing every off-season hockey training program should do is having components that reflect the demands of the game. For example, there should be considering of which energy systems are required and to what degree. There should be consideration of the collision nature of the game. Some thought should be given to what type of injuries typically occur with hockey players, how they happen and when they happen. There needs to time devoted to developing all of the athletic abilities required to succeed at the game including speed, agility, balance, hand-eye coordination, strength, power and more. And once each of the needs is determined there needs to be a plan to determine which type of tool or implement best addresses that need.

But beyond understanding the needs of the game it is just as important to understand the needs of the player. This can be determined by:

1. Performing a movement screen

How does the hockey player move? Are they symmetrical left and right? Or is one side different from the other. Do have difficulty getting their body into certain positions? Are they restricted at certain joints or hyper-mobile?

Before adding load, reps, sets and any type of intensity of training onto a hockey player we need to ensure that they can move through a full range of motion in all planes. Initiating training prior to this is not only counter-productive there is potential for future injury.

2. Knowing the injury history

A previous injury is one the best predictors of a subsequent injury. Sometimes this is due to weakness at the site of the injury that was never addressed during rehabilitation. And other times it is the result of compensation and the body doing whatever it takes to get by.

Either way it is imperative to understand what has happened in the past. And a lack of current pain or symptoms is not a reason to ignore these and assume everything is good to go.

3. Age and level specific

If we assume that we understood the demands of the game of hockey and we knew the hockey player’s previous injuries we still aren’t ready to initiate a training program. It is obvious that 5 foot twelve year old should not train the same as a six foot one inch 12 year old. And a centre in the NHL should not train the same as a centre playing senior men’s spring hockey.

We need to understand the needs of young athletes as outlined in the LTAD model as well as the needs of more seasoned players. Avoiding doing results in a non-specific and potentially injurious situation.

4. Goal specific

The training process should be about achieving the goal of the player. But besides what the player identifies as their goal there are more clues as to what might help a player succeed.

Talk to the player’s coach, their physio, the scout that goes to their games, the recruiter for the school they’d like to attend and you may hear four different accounts as to what they like about the player and what they believe they need to work on. For sure we want to note areas in common between all the different sources of feedback. For example, if all parties agree they would like to see a bigger version of the player on the ice next season than a program designed to build a bigger player may be in order.

But also consider the outliers. What I mean by that is pay some attention to the things one scout, coach or therapist noticed that no one else did. Is there merit in addressing this need? Why would they place importance on this? And why are others not saying or seeing the same thing?

5. Measured outcomes

Lastly, since you know the demands of the game how are you measuring improvement in these areas? For example, if the goal is to increase the speed of a player how do you know if the program is achieving this? How often do you measure it?

At minimum a player should be tested at the beginning and conclusion of their off-season training. This allows both the coach and athlete to see where improvements were made and where further efforts are needed. Over time the coach will develop a database of assessments and then be able to tell a given player how they rank relative to other players at their level.

In the next post I will talk about the NHL combine as well as some research that shows which tests are important for success in the NHL and draft order.


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