There is a link between on and off ice training for hockey players.
Too often, athletes are usually all the way to the on ice side. This can become problematic.
When we look at skating and what makes skaters fast there are certain qualities we want.
- Good knee bend
- Ability to flex at the hip
- Full back leg extension on the striding leg
- Good stability on the base leg
- Powerful push into the ice
- Good stride frequency
A lot of this is technique based. A good skills coach can take an athlete and show them what they should be doing and many athletes will be able to.
Some athletes are going to be much more difficult cases.
This is where the on ice and off ice link becomes very important. Lets look at a couple of scenarios and how they fit into the mold of hockey players.
A. An athlete that is young and inexperienced with skating
This athlete just needs to be skating. They have to put in the time to learn and practice the pattern. Technique is important but so is time on the ice to reinforce the technique.
B. An athlete that cannot seem to get low enough in the skating position
This athlete may not know what a good skating position is. If they do, then they might not have enough mobility to get into a good spot.
C. An athlete that moves their feet really fast but does not get anywhere
The kid that looks like they are stuck in quicksand may mean they are not pushing their body forward with the stride. It could also mean that they are not strong enough to propel themselves down the ice.
D. An athlete that already skates well
Taking an athlete that already skates well and giving he or she more strength will only make them able to skate faster by putting more force into the ice.
Lets look at how we can address these scenarios with on and off ice training, focusing on the off ice stuff.
A. The athlete that is young and does not know how to really skate should be working with a hockey skills coach. This coach will be able to teach what a good skating position should feel like while having the kid on the ice. They can get a lot of reps in to help lock that pattern down.
Off ice training should be in the more of a general sense. This is the type of athlete that is young and just needs to learn a variety of movements. It does not make sense to really get them focusing on specific qualities like this yet.
The same goes for the rare case of the kid who is strong as an ox but does not skate well. They need technique work first and foremost.
B. When an athlete skates too high, they are going to be slow. They will lose out on some power development since the stride is shorter.
This is where good communication from a skills coach and a strength coach can work. If the skills coach is having issues with getting this athlete lower, we need to see why. Can the athlete even get into the position?
If they cannot even get there, then we need to address hip mobility. It could be in the hip itself or maybe in the core. I would not ever expect a skills coach to know this and it isn’t fair to assume that. We can take this athlete, do a quick assessment and figure out what the player needs to work on.
While we are training for strength/mobility the skills coach can start to put it together in the stride. This is the first example of a team effort.
C. The player in quicksand is really struggling with not getting a good push forward. We see it all the time in runners. Athletes driving their knees and pumping their arms but not getting anywhere. They need to push the ground away from them.
The skills coach can teach the athlete how to extend their back leg and use their edges to their advantage.
Meanwhile, this same athlete can be working on their lower body strength to accelerate the development. Using these strategies together would yield great benefits, quickly.
D. I have actually had a few parents ask me why their kid should train to get faster if they are already fast. I tend to think the answer is in the actual question but an athlete can never be too fast.
No hockey player has missed out on an opportunity to play at a high level because they skate around too many defenders or get back to play defense too effectively.
It is a skill that can keep growing and you cannot have too much of it. If the kid is already a great skater then we are going to give them more strength and power to work with.
These four tips are intended to sort of profile different athletes. It is a general guideline but the point is that we cannot be stuck too far at either end of the training spectrum.
On ice and off ice training, together, is going to create extraordinary improvements for hockey players.