People will always question how important off-ice training is for kids as young as 8 years old.
Do they really need it? Aren’t they a little young for it?
It is essential that young hockey players train off of the ice.
The most important quality for young hockey players is to be as athletic as possible. Then they can worry about specializing as a hockey player.
The best athletes will always turn into the best (any sport) players. General athleticism is especially required for athletes under the age of 16.
The hockey stride is unlike any other sport skill and it is one of the few sports that does not include running. Even though the sport does not require it, athletes should still be able to run in a straight line, jump, skip, shuffle, and do ladder drills.
Instead, hockey players look like they are striding instead of running, try to turn everything into crossovers, and always stop laterally.
Athletes should not be so programmed that they cannot even perform the most basic of athletic tasks.
Some of the things that all young athletes should master, but hockey players are notorious for struggling with.
Ladder drills tend to get a bad rap because some people do not like their use. For high level and older athletes, maybe they are not all that important.
Young kids should be athletic enough to get through even the most basic of ladder drills. General athleticism is built through these drills and they are perfect for young athletes.
The errors we usually see with hockey players is that they cannot go forward in a straight line. They will often turn their hips and cross their feet over as they go. They will also lock their arms into place, just like if they were holding a stick.
Encouraging them to swing their arms normally and keep their body square as they go through is the best way to get through these drills.
And for the love of god, do not make them do ladder drills with skates on. That is so bad I might need to create another post about it.
Skipping and Running in a Straight Line
Too many young hockey players will run as though they are striding down the ice. They usually lack knee drive and their legs do not go forward and back. They will often have their legs pushing out to the side too much.
This is where basic skipping patterns can be helpful. Whether they know it or not they will be moving in a straight line forward and working on their knee drive.
We use skipping drills with even our most advanced and fastest athletes, and kids will also get a ton of benefit from it.
I have had high school hockey players come in on day and lack the ability to skip down the turf. I do not care how good you might be at hockey, you need to be more athletic than that.
Starting them when they are young is a great strategy to promote good movement. The more they practice moving straight and differentiating the pattern from skating, the more we are building athleticism.
Ability to Jump
Hockey is not a vertical sport. The only time that players are going up toward the ceiling is to maybe grab a high flying puck.
Other than that hockey is played forward and backward, horizontally. This usually results in a poor ability to jump.
Working on jumping skills- including but not limited to the takeoff and landing- is necessary for these athletes. There is no reason that young kids shouldn’t know how to jump properly.
Vertical jump ability may not transfer to hockey all that well but being un-athletic sure does.
There has been a push lately for developing athletes depending on their chronological age. USA Hockey has done a great job bringing into the forefront and now it is up to coaches and parents to use it.
They must remember to use the off-ice guidelines as well. The structure of the Long Term Athlete Development model breaks people up by age and promotes young kids being athletes first.
If this is ever to take off and explode then expect better quality hockey players when they are older because they took the time to become athletes when they were younger.