Playing other sports expands a child’s athleticism by developing more motor skills, agility and coordination through the use of different muscles with different ranges of motion.
Whether your favorite player is T.J. Oshie (Warroad) of the Washington Capitals, Riley Tufte (Blaine) of Minnesota Duluth or Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights) of the U.S. Women’s National Team, they all possess this game-changing skill:
Hockey is a game of short, fast-paced shifts. Quick, powerful bursts of physical energy and force is essential to winning races, puck battles and body positioning.
How can young athletes add explosiveness to their repertoire?
Darryl Nelson is in his 18th season as the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s strength and conditioning coach. He offered some tips for youth hockey players this offseason.
Variety Brings Versatility
For those at the 12U level and under, a strength-training program is not advised by Nelson. For this age group, it’s about developing explosiveness in a fun way. In a way where the kids really aren’t thinking about it.
Kids can do that by playing multiple sports.
“It’s all about developing athleticism, strength, stamina and skill. You can do that in a number of ways, including playing other sports,” Nelson said.
Playing other sports expands a child’s athleticism by developing more motor skills, agility and coordination through the use of different muscles with different ranges of motion. Baseball/softball, lacrosse, track and field, soccer, swimming – kids should be encouraged try as many different sports as possible.
“Just about any team sport is sprint-based,” said Nelson, which translates well into the skating portion of hockey. But individual sports and activities – golf, biking, mountain climbing, wakeboarding, etc. – will also help create a well-rounded athlete.
Aside from playing other sports, there are many age-specific dryland drills kids can do during the season or in the off-season to enhance their explosiveness.
14U: Strength Training the Right Way
Once a player reaches the 14U level, strength training becomes a vital component for the serious hockey player and athlete.
“At that age, the goal is to make them proficient when teaching Olympic-style lifts and squatting,” Nelson said. “It’s important to lift well and not have the heaviest weights, per se.”
It is crucial to strength train correctly, not with the goal of lifting the most weight.
“Get with someone who can coach you to do lifts the right way,” Nelson said. “If you start the weight from above the knee, it’s much safer and you can avoid a lower-back injury.”
There are plenty of strength-training exercises out there, but it’s important to keep in mind the fact hockey is an explosive, sprint-based sport. That means spending time exclusively with bicep curls and bench pressing may be tempting but ultimately counterproductive to developing elite hockey skills.
Nelson recommends medicine ball throwing to develop upper-body strength. For lower-body, jumping and plyometric activities are encouraged. The key is to make sure these exercises can help the player be more explosive on the ice.
“Usually for these exercises, we’re only doing 5-10 reps, not a circuit,” Nelson said. “We do a lot of single extremity lifting because it’s more applicable to sports. In hockey, you use one leg at a time to skate.”
One of the biggest mistakes Nelson sees players make is cross-training with activities that don’t work toward explosiveness, such as distance running.
“When people train more for endurance, they’re not training for explosiveness,” Nelson said. “It’s training your body the wrong way from a neuromuscular standpoint.”
With summer fast approaching, it is a good time to evaluate and develop your plans and goals to increasing your explosiveness.
You’ll be thankful for that extra power next fall.
“Power is the most important thing for us in hockey,” Nelson said. “If you can develop power, players will be faster and more explosive.”