Chalk Talk: Preparing for puck drop – that time is fast approaching
What you need to know to be ready for the season:
Pre-season Shift – That exciting time of year when hockey season is finally back. New teams are formed, players and coaches are turning the switch back on from the summer break, and all hit the ground running with pre-season preparation. From a physical standpoint, hockey is indeed an interesting sport with a physiological profile containing aerobic endurance, anaerobic power and endurance, muscular strength, and skating speed. Athletes at the highest level of the game have all recently agreed that hockey has evolved in such a way that if you are not continuously improving peak athleticism, you will not last. Before the puck drops, your expectation as a coach is that your players have spent their off-season training the right way with properly periodized strength training, loosening of skating muscles, and developing fluid and sound movements with power and speed.
Pre-season Conditioning – Phasing into the season, the focus should include sport-specific conditioning, developing skating muscles and injury prevention. Every coach’s program on and off the ice should have injury prevention in the front of their mind for the simple fact that if your players are not healthy, they cannot play. As an energy system, hockey is characterized by high-intensity intermittent skating with rapid changes in velocity and duration. Pre-season conditioning should be parallel with these characteristics. At the older age groups and elite levels, VO2max testing is a requirement to determine the athlete’s anaerobic threshold. A common test seen in hockey is the 300-yard shuttle run test (two cones 25 yards apart, run back and forth six times as fast as possible). Conditioning is typically seen in the forms of sprint drills and plyometrics, stationary bike intervals, and skating with work-rest ratios around 1:2 (work time = 30-60 seconds, rest time = 60-120+ seconds). The most common misconception I see is the implementation of long distance running. Physiological studies have shown that a large percentage of the sport has anaerobic demands. Therefore, your conditioning should primarily promote anaerobic power and endurance.
Work Smart – Do not mistake hard work for achievement. All athletic programs must be carefully designed at each phase for athletes to perform at their optimal level. Each phase has a different intention and purpose. The pre-season shift should be intentional and purposeful with preparation in mind without the risk of burnout early in the season. While the pre-season is short, much can be achieved in just those few weeks. Coaches can effectively condition their athletes in as little as 2-3 weeks while preparing their bodies for in-season demands with injury prevention. Off-ice conditioning protocols can be performed 2-3 times per week in conjunction with the on-ice schedule and will be effective as long as it is balanced well with recovery methods and injury prevention through mobility, myofascial release, stretching and loosening.
Conclusion – In-season requirements include maintenance in muscular strength, mobility and muscle recovery. The primary goal for every athlete is to stay healthy and consistently perform at their highest level. Older age groups can perform workouts 2-3 times per week (pending schedule) with the approach of strength and movement reinforcement. Younger age groups (Mite-Pee Wee) train within their trainability window. Conditioning protocols can still be implemented with the focus of motor skill improvement and speed (at the Pee Wee level). Remember, at these younger ages, it is critical to avoid early youth sport specialization. Even while coaching hockey, we want to encourage players to develop overall athleticism. With that being said, the key to in-season maintenance at these levels is to never turn down the dial on the fun meter.
Jerry Hotarek is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association with over 10 years’ experience as a coach on and off the ice. For any questions or inquiries on training regimens or programs, visit www.strengthedgeathletics.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Oct. 11, 2017)