I wanted to write about something that I have seen happen over the last 5-10 years in the hockey training realm. Before I express my view, it’s important to note that I am a strength and conditioning coach. My work is primarily off the ice.
I believe young hockey players are skating too much during the off-season. I understand the reasoning for professional players to be on the ice on a year-round basis. They can perfect their craft while also improving or maintaining their conditioning. As pro’s get older, they may not like the pounding of training on land (i.e. running). Although I do believe that pros would benefit from running and extending their hips more in the off-season, I understand where they are coming from. With most pro’s nowadays, there was a time when they were involved in a structured strength and conditioning program while not skating as much.
I believe the issue is with players at the high school level or below. I am not talking about tryouts or other evaluation programs. I am referring to the daily 1-2 hour long skating sessions that can occur 1-2 times per day, 5-6 days per week.
I am not advocating for no skating as I do believe that some on-ice work is appropriate. Skating specific drills to improve crossovers, change of direction, and stride length all have a place. I question when the volume of the on-ice work interferes with the physical development of the young player.
Here are some of my reasons
- Strength training workouts are stressful. There has to be time to recover between workouts as muscles are damaged through strength training. They need time to repair and grow. Younger athletes may not need as long of a recovery time as adults. I do believe that it isn’t beneficial when a young athlete is in a 4-day per week strength and conditioning program and a 5-6 day per week skating program at the same time. You will not get the most out of your training on or off the ice.
- Increasing force production will help you get faster. Strength training will help increase leg strength which will help increase force production when you skate. The more force you can push into the ice, the faster you will go. The key would be to get progressively stronger during the off-season which may not happen if the athlete doesn’t recover between workouts.
- Don’t skip strength and conditioning for skating. It’s hard to convince parents to have their child skip the skating sessions to get their strength and conditioning in. I understand that tryouts maybe approaching or the opportunity to work with a highly regarded skills coach is important. However, most of the time, I think it comes down to parents feeling like their kid will miss out. (Unfortunately, I’ve been there as a parent). I do believe that in the long run, the strength and conditioning session will be more beneficial. Make strength and conditioning the priority or at least don’t schedule your lifting and skating at the same time of day.
- Communication with skating coaches is important. Skating coaches and strength and conditioning coaches should communicate frequently. It would be beneficial to know what the skating coach’s plans are for the day and vice versa.
While I am always going to push for adequate recovery time between workouts, the reality is that I think kids are going to be on the ice more and more. Again, I am not advocating for being off the ice completely during the summer months. Two to three sessions per week while working on a specific skill is fine. I do think there is an issue with kids and parents trying to juggle too many things such as strength and conditioning, high school captain’s practice, power skating, and week-long drop in sessions.
Off-season on-ice work with a good coach is beneficial when combined with a strength and conditioning program. Lower body strength training, plyometrics, and sprinting can help a hockey player become a better skater. A good skating coach can help you improve your skating position and speed in conjunction with a good strength and conditioning program as long as rest and recovery is integrated.