A common misconception is that to be a good hockey player, you need to specialize your workload and focus it all towards on-ice hockey training. However, long-term athlete development science shows that players need a well-rounded athletic upbringing to reach their potential as hockey players.
“We need to develop the whole athletic persona. That’s where the off-ice part comes in, whether you’re a young kid, ages 6-8, or an 18-year-old. Off-ice training is a way to build yourself as an athletic specimen,” said Flint Doungchak, USA Hockey’s Pacific District Coach in Chief. “The best hockey players come from the best athletes. You’re not going to get that athleticism from just playing hockey 365 days a year.”
At the 8U level, it’s all about getting kids to move and understanding the relationship between coordination, agility and balance. At 10U and 12U, it’s getting into more specific skill movements that are related to athletic performance.
It’s important to keep the youngsters interested in the off-ice aspect of training.
“It should be like anything you’re teaching kids: it should be fun,” said Doungchak. “It shouldn’t be mad dashes and lines until the kids are throwing up. We’ve got to make it fun so kids want to do it.”
In order for American players to become the best athletes, coaches need to allot time for dryland training at all ages. This culture shift needs to be across the board.
“Where we’re at, we don’t necessarily shoot for the moon. Right now let’s get on the launch pad,” Dougnchak said. “Sometimes you don’t feel you have the resources so you do nothing, but that’s not the attitude to have. We’re behind the curve relative to the top hockey playing countries in the world so we need to do something to help us get where we want to be.”
Off-ice training doesn’t have to be an entire day dedicated to another practice, either. Dryland training can take place before and after practices in what Jordan James, Pacific District Associate Coach in Chief, calls “micro-dosing” – bite size chunks of training.
“Time is the ultimate resource – we only have a limited amount,” said James, who runs the Pacific District Development Camps’ off-ice training. “Coaches might think they need to have a separate hour-long session to separate their dryland time from their on-ice time. But the reality is that you can micro-dose the training elements that we’re wanting to do in the five, 10 or 15 minutes before and after practice. It teaches good habits, good development skills and responsibility. They really get an education in that process.”
These micro-doses also don’t have to be complicated. James said to start with a light jog, dynamic stretch and a handful of exercises that touch on five basic athletic movements: push, pull, hinge, squat and plank. USA Hockey’s website has printable handouts with instructions of exercises that touch upon all these movements. He added that it’s important to have a cool down and teach recovery after practice as well.
Push – Simple pushup movement that can be used in any variation.
“Core competencies of athleticism are speed, power, agility, reaction time, quickness, strength and stamina,” James said. “Those are the basic components that go into stickhandling or skating, and putting your body in the right position to play the sport of hockey, or any sport for that matter.”
Variation exercise: T-Push
Pull – Pull-up or inverted row.
“Go to any fitness club and the pull up bar is always empty because it’s a hard exercise,” James said.
Variation exercise: Rows with Resistance
Hinge – Dead lift.
“Just like any sport-specific tactics or skills that a coach is trying to develop – such passing a puck, taking a slap shot or teaching a goalie the proper stance – there are building blocks,” James said. “There are building blocks to increasing someone’s overall strength, or their quickness, speed and agility.”
Variation exercise: Team Single Leg Deadlift
Squat – Simple squatting or lunge pattern.
Variation exercise: Monster Walk
Plank – Core or trunk exercise that’s using your bodyweight as resistance.
“Resistance is so important in hockey,” James said. “If you’re in the corner with the puck, are you able to hold off an opponent?”
Variation exercise: Bridge Log Roll
Variables can include tempo, either slowing things down or speeding them up. People get obsessed with weight, but doing something extremely slowly can make an exercise much more difficult.
“Everyone remembers wall sits and not because it’s particularly difficult, but because they last so long,” James said.
Exercises should also be done with one leg or arm and use patterns that make players go from side to side, and front to back.
“You only get to set the foundation the right way once,” James concluded. “If movement patterns and athleticism are not built on a solid foundation then you’re impacting the long-term plan of that athlete.”