Athletes first. Hockey players second.
That’s a core tenet of the American Development Model, and a philosophy embraced by former UMD Bulldog, current Rice Prep Hockey (Vermont) assistant coach and strength and conditioning guru Becky Salyards.
As part of her dual role, Salyards has developed Rice’s off-ice training regimen. She shared her thoughts on how coaches can incorporate off-ice training into their day-to-day routines and why it’s crucial to long-term athlete development.
USA Hockey: How critical is off-ice training and athlete development in the grand scheme of things?
Becky Salyards: It’s important to develop athleticism first and the hockey player second to create a long-term athlete. Kids should play different sports growing up. But the reality is kids are only going to do so much, and some may only want to play hockey. So, if we want that hockey player to be their best, we need to engage other muscles or engage different movements off the ice in order for them to gain the things athletically that they’d gain from a different sport. Things like quick movements, agility, changing direction, starts and stops, these are things they may learn on a soccer or lacrosse field. Not every kid plays those sports so we should help them with that when we can.
USA Hockey: How does athleticism factor in to long-term success in hockey?
Becky Salyards: So often, good hockey players come in (for off-ice training) and they have no idea how to do it. It’s sad watching them sometimes. Then they go on the ice and they’re still incredible players. The older they get though, it will catch up to them. They may be really good at 10 or 12 or 14, but after that if they can’t be a more well-rounded athlete, others will catch up to them. To be the best you can be you need to be good at more than one thing. Skills are one thing, but you will be so much better if you have better agility, balance and coordination.
Becky Salyards currently serves as an assistant coach for Rice Prep Hockey in Vermont.
USA Hockey: How can youth hockey coaches make their dryland or off-ice training more fun and interesting for their players?
Becky Salyards: There are a lot of ways to make things more dynamic. One is to do drills off the ice with a ball instead of a puck. Maybe play a small-area game off the ice and then bring it on the ice. Start by having them do the drill in a straight line and then do it in circles. I like to have kids do footwork through ladders or balance on a ball or skateboard. Anything to keep the feet moving and keep things fun. Things like a relay race on your hands, using your upper body, incorporating ladder
USA Hockey: Why is ‘fun’ so important for young players?
Becky Salyards: If a kid gets on the ice and is bored or not touching pucks or has time to sit and goof around with friends, they may not want to come back tomorrow. That’s why the American Development Model is so great. You can be at a station for 6-7 minutes, do something quick, move a lot, touch a lot of pucks, jump over things, and then a few minutes later get to do something else. So even if one drill becomes tedious, the kid knows soon it will change. They know the next time they’re on the ice they’ll get to do their favorite drill again.
USA Hockey: How do you get younger kids motivated to do the extra work off the ice?
Becky Salyards: Keep it fun and make it seem like it’s not work. Do it as a group so they’re having fun and competing with their teammates. Have one group focused on agility stuff and another group focused on speed work and then switch. Coaches need to take the time to plan out the week or month to keep kids engaged. USA Hockey has great tools online to help (Download USA Hockey’s Mobile Coach App). It’s unlikely a kid will do it on their own, especially toward the middle or end of the year.
USA Hockey: What are some other examples of exercises/games you’ve included in the off-ice program for Rice?
Becky Salyards: It depends where we are in the season. At the high school level, the first eight weeks are about strength and trying to add more each week. Then we transition into speed and balance work until mid-January. Drills like having a teammate try to push you over. We remind the kids that on the ice they typically are using one foot at a time and that helps them respect the balance work we do. By January-March, because we’re on the ice more, the off-ice days become recovery days, doing roll-outs and stretching, maybe even play basketball. We’ve spent a day at a gymnastics facility to work on balance and coordination, but in a different environment. We’ll also get into the pool and have them do different workouts once a week. Maybe one week in the pool, another week gymnastics, another week yoga, maybe a spin class. As we get to the end of the year, we want to try new things to keep them engaged and fit and having fun and keep their heart rates up. These different, fun activities away from the rink can also serve as team building opportunities.