Today I’m going to tell you a story. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
You’ve spent all summer in the gym (chasing them gainz), on the ice working on your skills and skating, on the track working on your speed and now it’s time for the real deal. Training camp starts with some testing and you set personal bests in vertical jump because you’ve improved your lower body power. Your 20 m sprint time on the ice reflects that as well and your ability to change direction is off the charts. It’s going to be a good year! And then coach calls everyone together and tells the team, “This year we are going to be THE BEST CONDITIONED TEAM in the league.”
Coach blows the whistle and sends everyone to the line for a bagger. When practice ends, its time for some ‘Dry Land’ (I hate that term). Everyone heads to the gym and there are 10 ‘stations’ set up for a ‘Hockey Dry Land Circuit,’ which will entail each group performing some movement for as many reps as possible for 45 seconds (because that’s how long a shift should be) while coach walks around yelling at players to “push through the pain,” “grind it out” and “show your teammates what you are made of.” This goes on once or twice a week for the first four months of the season. Around February you notice your game just isn’t what it was at the beginning of the season. You don’t have the same jump, you can’t be as elusive as you were and overall you find yourself getting sluggish at the end of games. In addition, you are sleeping in more, having trouble concentrating in school and your team has lost a few games in a row. You show up to practice and coach is fuming. “You guys are running out of juice in the third, clearly you aren’t conditioned enough. NO PUCKS! On the line!”
End of the season comes around, you had a good year. Were definitely improved from the year before, but feel nowhere near as good as you did at the beginning of the season. That’s just the way it is over a long season, you figure; time to build it back up. You head back to the gym you train at in the summer. Your Strength and Conditioning Coach does some standard baseline tests and you see that your body composition has changed. You gained weight, but lost muscle mass. Across the board your strength and power metrics have gone down 15% from where you were at the end of the prior summer. Coach shakes his head and asks, “What have you been doing all season?” You are confused. You worked hard all season and did everything your coach asked of you. Isn’t this normal?
Food for thought: CNS fatigue and Overtraining Syndrome can result in decreased ‘conditioning’ eg. Higher resting heart rate, decreased stroke volume, increased rate of perceived exertion, lowered power output, reduced coordination and increased risk of injury.¹
This scenario is very common in sport in general, but especially in youth hockey. Not to say that there isn’t anybody doing a good job, but I see it all too frequently where coaches are trying to improve their team through the methods that they grew up with (bag skating); and they are ‘adding value’ to the crazy fees hockey teams are charging, by taking their team for ‘Dry Land’ (I hate that term) training at a local athlete training mill.
Often, the team chooses a friend of a parent or coach, someone with a flashy Instagram page, who maybe played hockey at some point and saw a market, so they decided to open a facility. Unfortunately, many of these athlete training facilities are more concerned with packing as many people as possible in ($) and making it look like work is being done (sweat/puke), than actually figuring out what are the needs of the athlete and sport. Often these athletes are OVERTRAINED and suffering from CNS fatigue by the middle of the season but coach keep skating the *expletive out of them and the ‘Dry Land’ coach keeps frying them neurologically with high repetition circuits.
Much of this can be broken down to lack of knowledge. Athletes put trust in coaches that they know (and care) what is best FOR THEM. Coaches trust that the athlete training facility has THE ATHLETES and teams best interest at heart. However, if the coach isn’t open minded and up to date with current best practices and the athlete training facility is mostly concerned with filling the space, then the athlete is being failed. Sometimes something isn’t better than nothing and more isn’t better.
So, what are we to do?
In part 2 I will tell you why hockey players aren’t special and begin to share my thoughts on ‘conditioning,’ followed by where I believe we should be investing the athletes time and effort during the season.