In parts 1, 2 and 3 of my In-Season Training for Hockey series, I focused on one of my two least favorite terms in the hockey performance world, ‘conditioning.’ We established that placing a greater emphasis on strength and recovery are necessary to maximize the benefits of the aerobic capactiy that the majority of our players already have access to. Which leads many to respond with this typical hockey response, “well we do ‘dry land’.”
While I applaud the parents, players and coaches for acknowledging work done outside of the confines of the ice surface has an impact on the overall quality of their teams play; I wish the term ‘dry land’ would be removed from the hockey vocabulary. This term has become synonymous with hockey strength and conditioning however, I don’t believe the two to be interchangeable.
This distinction is more a commentary on the industry of private training facilities, than anything else. Typically when the term is thrown around, ‘Dry Land’ Training connotes a mass market, team/group, circuit based training approach that is outdated. It views training done in the weight room as hockey specific; often does not acknowledge the role of the individual athlete, rather is described as ‘sport specific’ (another term I dislike); and, if I may, from a semantics stand point, ice is a solid and technically I could do a deadlift on it if I desired. Though, I digress. Most important to me is the fact that ‘Dry Land’ is used to market poor training programs to hockey parents, who spend a lot of money and don’t necessarily know the difference, but only want to help their child succeed.
Many of these athlete training facilities which offer this ‘Dry Land” are providing circuit based workouts, during which each athlete performs the same set of movements for the same designated amount of time or reps, with minimal supervision. The logistics of cramming an entire team into a gym, or doing a workout in the change room, with one or two coaches present means that every athlete is being asked to meet in the middle. The top performers are not being challenged enough and the less experienced are often asked to perform beyond their capabilities, which can not only be unsafe but also retards their adaptation and acquisition. These are generalized WORKOUTS, which can be better than nothing; but I would argue often interfere with the performance of the top and bottom players.
What should hockey players, parents and coaches do?
Seek out Certified Strength and Conditioning coach with an athlete centered approach to development (like myself *wink*). Athlete centered differs from sports specific in that it acknowledges:
- Every hockey player is at a different starting point.
- Every hockey player plays a different season (number of shifts, injuries, suspensions, positions, roles etc.)
- Every hockey player has a different physical makeup.
- Every hockey player responds to training modalities differently.
- Every hockey player recovers differently.
- Every hockey player has different personal goals.
With the athletes I work with, I don’t look at in-season training as simply time to maintain. I look at it as an opportunity to maximize the athletes time to achieve the desired result on ice individually, which benefits the team. Working with athletes early in the developmental cycle(age), we see an even greater gap in capabilities from top performers to those at the bottom. It is imperative that if we are introducing bantam aged athletes(13y.) or younger, to strength and conditioning, we acknowledge that gap and program to it. Providing those early adapters with a generalized program is only going to stunt their future growth ceiling; while asking those late bloomers to complete tasks that they are muscularly or neurologically unprepared for can not only be dangerous, but also can limit future adaptation, as they develop a faulty base to build upon.
As an industry, coaches like myself have a duty to provide the best product for our athletes. That entails an individualized, science informed, athlete driven program. Why doesn’t everyone do it? Simple, it is more labour intensive, requires greater communication and is often less profitable. In the end, there is a reason many athletes I work with forgo team based training to come in and see me during the season. It’s not because they aren’t a team player, it’s because teams aren’t offering player focused solutions. It’s time we cut through the hype fed by social media and sport drink commercials, and focused on what’s best for the athlete.
This concludes my reflection on the current state of in season training for hockey. Keep in mind, this is a generalization of what I perceive as the current state; formed from my observations, especially witnessed in the minor hockey world, where parents are often at the mercy of organizational politics. I believe there is a shift happening, top down and that strength and conditioning in hockey is still in its infancy, compared to other major sports (maybe toddler). As sports science at the pro, collegiate and major junior levels continues to improve, the trickle down will make it’s way to minor hockey (this will be expedited if parents demand it). My goal is to get those directed with the care of these athletes to begin thinking of development from an athlete centered mindset. I ask parents and coaches to be more critical of the development of their young athletes. Ask questions of the coaches. Make sure their ‘why?’ is coming from an evidenced based evaluation of the needs of the athlete and team. And most importantly that a specific ‘why’ exists. ‘Conditioning’ can have many meanings, so let’s challenge what specific qualities need improving and ensure that we are taking the proper and most efficient route to improving those qualities.
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