The first drop of the puck, signaling the start of another ice hockey season in Minnesota, is still several weeks away. But for young players looking to prepare for the upcoming schedule of practices and games with their teams, late summer and fall offer plenty of opportunities to develop skills and have fun.
Emily West, USA Hockey’s ADM Manager for Female Hockey, knows a thing or two about skill development. The former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ captain and Patty Kazmaier Award nominee now works with local associations and national programs to develop and support age-appropriate training, competition and athlete development.
Growing up in rural Black Forest, Colo., West spent hours shooting pucks at a wall or garbage can and stickhandling through homemade obstacle courses, often drawn on the ground in chalk. “Nothing fancy,” she said. “I’d just dump pucks on the ground and make up games on my own.”
As West and most every hockey coach would attest, a frozen sheet of ice is not a requirement when it comes to getting better at the game. Dryland training can often lay the foundation for a successful season at the rink.
“We encourage players to use the space that they have, whether it’s a hallway, an open field, a garage or a basement,” said West. “You don’t need to have skates on to work on fundamentals, quick feet, agility, balance and coordination. You don’t even need to focus on hockey. Playing other sports can also be beneficial in many ways and extremely fun.”
West believes skill development isn’t a one-method-fits-all approach, particularly because players between the ages of 5-18 are all going through different phases of physical and mental development. She recommends using the following off-ice drills for players, based on age, to prepare for the upcoming season and to continue to build athleticism throughout the year:
Goalies: USA Hockey’s Manager of Goaltending put together a comprehensive list of pre- and post-ice dryland training and stretching drills. Click here to download.
While the types and frequency of activities are important, West also believes it’s critical that the player dictates his/her own offseason hockey regimen, whether it’s goofing around with friends or more serious training.
“I think, as adults, we sometimes lose sight that most kids play hockey because they simply love to play it,” said West. “A parent’s role is to talk with their kids, encourage them, remind them to have fun and be that support system. It’s absolutely critical that the kids want to participate and get better on their own. Parents have to ‘read’ their kids and provide healthy encouragement, rather than pressure or a push.”