Jim Radcliffe was the strength and conditioning coach for the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team, and has more than 30 years of experience at the University of Oregon. He’s played a significant role helping athletes in a variety of sports bring the Olympic motto to life by gaining strength, power, stamina and speed.
Radcliffe shared his offseason training advice for young hockey players, including age-appropriate progressions, explosiveness, scoring and more.
Minnesota Hockey: What would you recommend for young hockey players to build and maintain strength and conditioning this offseason?
Jim Radcliffe: It’s important to keep moving and have fun with a variety of activities including bike riding, swimming, climbing, rowing, baseball, tennis, skateboarding and rollerblading – or any sports that emphasize quick, multi-directional movements utilizing foot/hand/eye coordination.
Minnesota Hockey: Why are quick, multi-directional movements like in tennis more beneficial to young hockey players, as opposed to something like long-distance running?
Radcliffe: All of these activities are very “hockey-like” both physiologically – intensities, durations, etc. – and mechanically. Long-distance running misses the mark in both factors from the intensity and interval aspect; and severely misses from the biomechanical and technical aspects of skating faster and more efficiently for longer.
Minnesota Hockey: What are some creative ways for players to build their athleticism over the summer?
Radcliffe: Drills are not always skills. But free play and getting involved in multiple activities help develop the overall athlete and create a healthier, more resilient one. An example of a conditioning itinerary for a young player over the summer could consist of short acceleration – “get-offs” – and jumping early in the week, strength and stamina work in the middle of the week, then free play and different games – with a multitude of continuous stop-start-directional challenges later in the week.
Minnesota Hockey: Strength and conditioning approaches for 8U players certainly will vary from players in 12U or 14U. If you had to highlight a specific focus area for each age group, what would that look like?
Radcliffe: USA Hockey’s website has good concepts and a good progression. One thing to carefully consider is the “why” behind use of the dot drill and ladders since true agility – both on and off the ice – deals with projection of the hips in addition to footwork.
Radcliffe recommends the following:
Minnesota Hockey: Is weight training more or less important than in the past? It seems like NHLers are looking more like tennis players than football players these days.
Radcliffe: First you need to define weight training. If it is bodybuilding or pure powerlifting it is less important for overall hockey development than total body weight training. In total body weight training, coordinated and combined movements are strengthened just as much or more than isolated muscles are.
Minnesota Hockey: What are some specific total body weight training exercises that you'd recommend?
Radcliffe: Overhead squats; presses into lunges; squats into presses; well-instructed power cleans, snatches, and jerk progressions; medicine ball tosses, throws, and passes.
Minnesota Hockey: Kids want to score goals. What are some exercises that you'd recommend to strengthen "scoring" muscles and coordination?
Radcliffe: Stick movement exercises with different sizes and weight implements: small medicine balls, large marbles, smaller pucks, weighted pucks, etc.
Minnesota Hockey: Elite athletes are paying much more attention to their diets these days. How important is that for kids? Do you have any pre- or post-workout nutritional tips?
Radcliffe: Again, balance is the key. Our parents and grandparents had the right idea – two to three quality well-balanced, sit-down meals. A colorful plate involving all of the proper food groups goes a long way. Getting farther away from fast food, loaded drinks and supplements, and relying on quality meal plans.
Minnesota Hockey: What would you say to a coach or parent who is concerned about their child over-doing it once the long season is over?
Radcliffe: Of course, breaks are recommended, but it’s important to still be active.
Minnesota Hockey: What advice would you have for parents who may feel pressure to keep their kids skating or on the ice all summer long so they don’t fall behind?
Radcliffe: Three simple points: More is not always better, keep the FUN in fundamentals and variety keeps them healthy.