Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series to help educate and guide hockey families this offseason. Learn more about long-term athlete development and the American Development Model at www.MinnesotaHockey.org/admkids.
Have you ever heard of a hockey player that’s too fast? Too quick? Too explosive?
“That’s like being accused of being too good of a skater,” said Ken Martel, USA Hockey’s Technical Director of the American Development Model (ADM). “You can always improve. Always.”
Speed and quickness are two elements that every hockey player should constantly be working on. They are not the only keys to becoming a good skater, but critical to being an effective, impactful player. Skating is the foundation of a player’s skill set. Strong skating helps players acquire other skills – stickhandling, shooting, passing, etc. – much more easily down the road.
But it’s the offseason, and it’s important to take time off from hockey and away from the rink. So how can an athlete continue to work on speed and quickness with an eye toward next season?
Dryland Training Drills
USA Hockey has developed age-specific (ages 6-12) dryland training cards for players to work on their athleticism.
6U/8U: Games such as Stick Catchers and relay races keep training fun for youngsters while helping them develop fundamental movement skills. Using activity-based games keep the kids engaged.
10U/12U: Jump rope, multidirectional jumps and multidirectional sprints are some drills kids can try on their own. They can move on to chaotic hops, monster walk twist and hurdle jumps to help build their speed and quickness.
Bantams and Beyond?
Once players start hitting the Bantam, Junior Gold and high school levels, it’s time to extend the season if you’re serious about hockey. It’s not necessarily extended in the number of games. It’s extended in the training that you’re doing to prepare yourself.
Sometimes players at this age will ignore speed and quickness and focus on strength or other skills, such as shooting or stick handling. Speed should always be worked on. Most kids would be surprised at how much energy pro hockey players put into their speed and quickness.
Players at the 14U/16U level still need to take a break from the rink, but they can continue to improve their game by focusing on explosiveness through strength training, plyometrics, sprints, other sports and dryland exercises.
Windows of Opportunity
There are two speed-training windows for both boys and girls. These are periods during a child’s growth when they are most receptive to developing speed and quickness.
Boys’ speed-training windows:
First: 7-9 years old
Second: 13-16 years old
Girls’ speed-training windows:
First: 6-8 years old
Second: 11-13 years old
Parents and coaches should take note.
“At certain times, research has found that kids are a little more receptive to acquiring those capacities,” Martel said. “There should be a conscious effort to improve in those areas at those particular times. That doesn’t mean they should not working on it at other times.”
Join the Invasion
Playing multiple sports is the best way to go, Martel says. Specifically, “invasion” sports, such as soccer, basketball and lacrosse, are the most effective. These are team sports where kids are required to defend and attack a goal or a net.
The movement patterns are very similar to hockey, so these sports will not only help build up speed and strength for the child, but also help them tactically.
It also keeps them fresh.
“You’ll get the physical development as well as the mental development and the mental break that will carry back over to ice hockey,” Martel said.
Let the Kids Decide
If your kid wants to go out and stickhandle in the driveway or play a pickup hockey game with friends, that’s great.
But we can’t forget about the most important part: It has to be fun.
“As long as its fun and the kids are mentally engaged … wonderful,” Martel said. “If the kid wants to go out and improve, it’s more undirected than directed. If you put your kid in a summer-long camp, maybe he gets bored with it. But anything a kid goes and does on their own – that doesn’t really count. Kids will always self-regulate. If they get tired of it, they’ll stop. There’s no adult making them do it.”