Posts Tagged ‘strength coach’

Below are a few more questions I had for Sean Skahan, s&c coach with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. Here are the questions and his answers.

Mike Boyle – an example of a top flight hockey s&c coach

9. How would he define a top flight hockey strength & conditioning coach?

Sean was quick to say that this comes down to decreasing injuries while getting more wins. He added that this involves an ability to relate to hockey players and to get them to buy into what they’re doing.

10. During the off-season players will do any of a number of things to get ready for the upcoming season. Some will follow the plan prepared by their team’s s&c coach. Other’s will use an alternate approach. And with this second option you often see more deviation from the traditional off-season program for hockey.

For example in recent years with the increased popularity of the UFC more players have incorporated some form of martial arts into their training. Some will get into some form of cross training. What are his views on off-season training?

Sean is ok with his players doing different things as long as it is safe. Safety is the primary concern. And the less specific it is to the game of hockey it is probably better to do these activities earlier in the off-season rather than trying them out a week or two before camp.

11. Hockey players play their game with the foot encased in a hard boot. With ankle stability being vital in the joint by joint approach to training and the recent interest in barefoot training what does Sean think about training barefoot?

He said he thought it probably would be ok for hockey players. There is benefit to having a more naked, less restricted foot contacting the ground. I’m not sure if I’m recalling the next part from Sean but when it comes to using some of the newer shoes such as the 5 Fingers it is important to ease into using them.

Wear them around the house for a day or so. Then wear them at the gym for a workout. Gradually work up to walking and then jogging in them. Start on softer surfaces such as grass and gradually build up with respect to the volume, speed and firmness of the surface.

Well there you have it. I’ve just given you direct insider access to the thoughts and methods of one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the NHL. You can’t help but improve your efforts to become a better hockey player by learning from a guy like Sean.

But a word of caution.

Don’t abandon everything you’re doing and change it to line up exactly as Sean is doing things.

You have different players. Your players have different needs and abilities. You ability to coach young players will be quite different.

Using a quote Bruce Lee was fond of using ‘embrace what is useful, reject what is not’.

Everything Sean does for the Ducks is useful for them but may not be for you. Your job is figure out where the nuggets of info he has dropped on you fit into your plan and then design a way to incorporate them into your training.

Thanks again Sean for being a great guy to learn from.


 When I say ‘Model Success’ this isn’t what I mean.

We’re all familiar with the expression ‘to learn from our mistakes’.

And this sometimes encourages people to forge ahead before they have the best information. This can lead to wasted time and, obviously, mistakes.

A better option would be to model success.

With that in mind I have taken some time to sit with Sean Skahan who is the strength and conditioning coach for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. While under his coaching the Ducks have won a Stanley Cup and were represented by 8 players at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

I think it’s safe to say his programs generate success on the ice. So to model some of Sean’s success I asked him a number of questions about this training methodologies.

Read on to find out Sean’s answers and model his success.

5. What are some things you wished players did a little less?

Sean didn’t have too much to say here. I guess this is a testament to the fact that he has earned the respect of this players and they don’t veer too far away fro whar he wants them to do.

Earlier in his career there was the occasional challenge of hockey players doing too much cardio for their off-season training. This might take a variety of forms but basically came down to long, aerobic conditioning.

Another challenge from earlier on was to have hockey players head home for the summer and do their own thing. They may enlist the help of coach or trainier in their area but this individual had different ideas about what these players were going to work on.

6. With the recent increase in head injuries in the NHL are the Ducks doing any specific related to this?

Sean does include some neck specific work for his players but admitted that head injuries are a part of the game. If a player suffers any type of head injury here is a very strict protocol that is followed involving various levels of the team’s medical staff. He did make one interesting comment about neck training and head injuries and that was to say no amount of neck training is going to off-set an opponent’s speed.

7. Another question I had for Sean involed the level of intensity used during lifting movements. There is some debate as to how heavy a player should lift. Some coaches like their hockey players to leave it all on the weight room floor. Others want to see them approach a max but be just under it.

Sean’s take on this was the load was secondary to the form of the lift. He wants the last rep to be excellent, just like the first rep.

In this regard I see what he is saying. It would be worse for a hockey player to use a submaximal load with terrible form than to attempt a 1 RM with excellent form.

8. Next I picked Sean’s brain about shoulder development. This is another area where you will find varying opinions from coaches as to whether or not they overhead press their hockey players.

While he didn’t express a hard rule for overhead pressing he did stress the importance they place on posterior shoulder work. They spend some time doing face pulls and going through their YLTW patterns.

Stay tuned for Part III in this series where I pick an NHL s&c coach’s brain for your benefit.


When I was still in university the plan was to go to medical or dental school.

I took all the required classes, did the admissions tests and had interviewss at a few schools. And while some may be happy just to get an interview I was pretty bumbed that I didn’t get in.

So I changed my focus from a physician to a performance coach. And I knew there were a number of ways I could get started in the field.

One way would be to move to a major centre and work as an intern to gain experience before returning to the Okanagan valley and beginning my own operation. The other option would be to start in the Okanagan from day one and invest as much as I could afford to travelling to various conferences and to try to network with as many people as possible.

I went with option B and haven’t regretted it for a second.

I’ve been able to meet, network and learn from a number of top people in the business. And the interesting thing is the higher you go in a particular field the more humble and helpful people are.

Such is the case with Sean Skahan.

Sean is the s&c coach for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. Going back a number of years I contacted Sean with regards to connecting with him in Anaheim and being able to see what he was doing with the Ducks.

He was very accomodating and willing to share what was working to keep his players healthy and performing at their highest level.

Since then I’ve made it a habit to visit Sean about once a year. And if I don’t make it down to California we’ve been able to talk on the phone and online.

Last month we connected and grabbed a quick lunch. Over lunch I picked his brain on a number of topics related to hockey s&c. There is no real order to the questions just things that came up while we had something to eat.

So here are 11 questions I had for Sean.

1. When he is coaching a hockey player where are his eyes? Is there something specific he is looking for?

He said it depends on the exercise but he is always looking for something. Sometimes there is a particular focus on something you don’t want to see.

2. What things would all hockey players do well to develop with regards to theb ir strength & conditioning?

Sean wants his players to really develop their posterior chain strength. This includes the glutes, hamstrings and low back. It is also important to have good core strength and stability and posterior shoulder development. Lastly he encourages his players to work on their hip mobility.

3. Training is different from competition for a number of reasons. For example training typically emphasizes driving through the heels on ground-based movements whereas sports usually involve an athlete being on the balls of their feet. I asked Sean if there were any other features of his training style where training was unique from  competition?

He answered that some exercises may differ in the position at the start but both are ultimately trying to achieve the same end goal which is to maintain and develop athleticism. As an example Sean compared the hang clean and squat.

4. Next I asked Sean what has changed in his programming in the past year or so?

He said that they are doing fewer trunk flexion exercises such as crunches and reverse crunches. He has added in more Turkish get up variations and been more selective on prescribing hang cleans. Some players will have learned the Olympic lifts in college and have no problem handling them in the program. Others either have little to no experience with these lifts and may not handle them as well.

He still likes to front squat his hockey players and incorporates more single leg training due to low back issues associated with higher loads on two legs.

One other consideration unique to the Ducks is the amount of travel they have which makes coordinating training sessions on the road more of a challenege.

Stay tuned for the remainder of this interview with Sean Skahan, NHL s&c coach.


Hi there: I just got back from California where I was able to meet up with a notable NHL strength and conditioning coach. It’s always good to check in with what’s going on at the NHL level for a number of reasons. First it allows you see other ways of doing things to accomplish a common goal. Secondly it affirms what you are doing if it is similar to what you already use on a day in day out process. Lastly it provides the opportunity to talk shop with a colleague. You’re able to bounce ideas off each other. You can pick each other’s brains about a certain question or topic. And you get a chance to rant as well with someone who understands the constraints, demands and challenges of one of the most rewards careers there is. But enough about my trip down south. On to the article.

You can usually tell a lot about what a player needs to work on by watching them play. And more importantly you can tell more precisely about what a player needs to work on later in a game, specifically in the third period or over-time. Here’s why.

When we are fresh and energized we are more capable of doing everything right and minimizing our mistakes. Picture the first few minutes of a playoff game between heated rivals. The tempo is quick, the pace is fast, the hits are intense and the play is exciting. Contrast this with the latter part of the game and everything slows down a little bit. Picture an NHL hockey game that goes to multiple over-time periods and the play is definitely slower and sometimes can get a little sloppy. Teams know to throw everything on net to take advantage of this deterioration in play.

A colleague once taught that there are four levels of learning. The first is unconscious incompetence. This basically means we don’t know we are doing the wrong thing. But then a coach enlightens us as to our mistake. Now we are consciously incompetent. We know are making a mistake but don’t know how to fix it. So now the coach spends some time using a variety of drills to teach us the correct way. And under controlled situations and focused attention we can perform properly. Lastly with enough practice and time we can develop the athletic abilities that become automatic for us. They happen almost as a reflex. This is known as unconscious competence.

Except for the truly great ones most athletes operate somewhere between conscious and unconscious competence. When their focus is broken or they fatigue they will falter and mess up. The great ones thrive under pressure, don’t get rattled when the stakes are high and continue to perform even under the bighest circumstances and fatigue.

Recently while taking a game featuring one of the athletes we coach I noticed his body position change toward the end of the game. As this player fatigued I noticed the upper body bent more forward. Was this the result of tight hips? Or maybe from a weak posterior chain that isn’t stabilizing the upper torso as it should. Hard to say for sure but it definitely something I made a note of and we will be sure to assess and address this off-season training.

There’s a lot of info you can get from watching a game. You can assess the fitness level of the player. You can see how they compete. You can see how they relate to both teammates, opponents, coaches  and officials. You can gather a ton of info that will help you do a better job helping that player with their off-season hockey training program. But you get the best and most accurate info towards the end of the game when the pressure and fatigue are highest.