Much has been written over the past couple of years about the benefits of off-ice training for hockey players. When it comes to maximizing player’s potential, research has shown that kids should be exposed to a variety of environments and activities in order to maximize their long term development as an athlete.
One of the best (and most discussed) ways of doing that is by playing multiple sports.
“We still have a fair amount of three sport athletes,” said Tyler Palmiscno, head coach for East Grand Forks boys’ high school hockey team. “Kids are playing football, soccer, baseball, golf or track. That really helps the athleticism.”
Fueling development and athleticism through off-ice activities shouldn’t stop when it comes time to take the ice each fall though. The Minnesota Development Model recommends two, 30-40 minute dryland sessions each week for Squirt/10U and Peewee/12U players during the hockey season.
Dryland practices give coaches and players of all ages the perfect opportunity to further capitalize on their windows of trainability. Here are three areas where dryland can play a big role in player development.
Honing in on Stick Skills
Passing, stick handling and shooting are three skills that players work on in every practice. Oftentimes, it’s difficult for coaches to fit all of the repetitions in they want players to get into their regular ice times. That’s why it’s important for players, especially girls ages 8-11 and boys ages 9-12, to also get additional reps off the ice.
“That’s the age where kids are really starting to develop physically and mentally,” said Palmiscno. “Those stick stills are so important at that age. It’s a key age for them to start working on their stick skills off the ice.”
USA Hockey refers to these age groups as the “Golden Age of Skill Development” because research has shown kids are developing their coordination at a higher rate than any other time in their lives, creating an important window of skill development. Other technical skills such as footwork should also be a focus area for kids at this age group.
Speed is a trait that every hockey player wants, but it seems like only a few have.
To maximize your players’ potential speed down the road, it’s important to be cognizant of when they are most capable of improving those characteristics. Boys and girls both have two windows where they have an increased opportunity to develop their speed. For boys, it is at ages 7-9 and 13-16. Girls have their windows a little earlier at ages 6-8 and 11-13.
Dryland drills that are oriented towards building players’ speed should incorporate a five second burst and require players to use linear, lateral and multi-directional patterns.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger
“The Bantam [or 14U] age group is where kids start making the decision how dedicated they are going to be to the sport,” said Palmiscno.
It is at this age where players really start lengthening their training schedule and putting more time and effort in during the offseason. In addition to continuing to work on individual skills, players must also start to work on building their strength and stamina as they enter peak development stages for those traits.
This creates a transition period for dryland training where coaches need to shift their approach. Players are putting in significantly more work off-ice during the summer to capitalize on potential gains in athleticism, which means coaches must always consider how their in-season dryland routine fits into players’ all-around training cycle.
“It’s just about more or less maintaining where the kids were at when the season started,” said Palmiscno. “We don’t want them losing weight, losing strength in the season. We don’t want them to lose the gains they made in the offseason.”
Also factoring into this transition period for dryland training is the number of times a team is on the ice each week and an increased emphasis on competition. While youth teams may hit the ice 3-5 times a week, older age levels can be skating as many as six times a week. This creates a situation in which more dryland time can actually hinder development instead of igniting it.
“We try at the high school level to get two workouts a week,” said Palmiscno. “We’re doing it depending on our on-ice schedule. We’ve even done it after games. We’ll do a short 15-20 minute off-ice workout just to get something in that week.”
The important part is that players are receiving dryland training that matches their needs, according to their age and an appropriate training schedule.
For more details on critical training periods and a collection of sample dry land drills, visit USA Hockey’s Dryland Training webpage.