From the Summer Olympics: Some thoughts for hockey development
Posted by Dean Holden at August 11th, 2012
By Jack Blatherwick, Let’s Play Hockey Columnist
I promise not to write at length about dancing horses on the front lawn of the Queen’s castle. But I will say the winner of the dressage competition – the horse, that is – deserves a gold medal for putting up with humans who sip tea and evaluate dancing horses.
There are so many valuable lessons for aspiring athletes in the Olympics, the list is endless. Some of the more important factors are passion, work ethic, sportsmanship and poise in the greatest pressure cooker in the world of sports.
But I pick acceleration. What? Acceleration? Yes, I write about acceleration, because I know nothing about poise in the heat of battle. Heck, my nerves jangled over a four-foot putt in a golf match for 50 cents.
Acceleration is the superhuman explosion after the starting gun when the fastest sprinters in history race 100 meters to show what we knew before the gun: The best male and female sprinters come from the tiny island of Jamaica. Why are they the best? Good question, and one you should investigate, because your skating acceleration could depend on what you discover.
Acceleration (by definition) is also ‘agility:’ changing directions with balance and coordination while maintaining speed. To anyone who wants to play hockey at higher levels, my advice is to watch how the greatest athletes move. Copy them. Train to accelerate your body the way they did at younger ages. They sprinted at full speed, cut on a dime to dodge opponents in a game of basketball or soccer. They stopped and changed directions on the tennis court. If your training program doesn’t include horizontal acceleration-deceleration, add it immediately.
Through miscommunication about the words ‘force’ and ‘power,’ the major purpose of strength training for hockey has been de-emphasized. It is not about strength to toss large weights around, as in wrestling, Olympic weightlifting or American football. Athleticism in many sports – certainly in hockey – boils down to acceleration-deceleration of your own body weight.
Weight training can certainly contribute to this project if it is inserted wisely, but the majority of your time and energy should be spent accelerating your body. Many activities are excellent, the most obvious being sprints, jumps, hills and pulling sleds. However, participation in other sports takes this to another level, because it requires quickness and agility, combined with read-react decision-making. Tennis is among the best, because the acceleration-deceleration and endurance are similar to demands in hockey.
And, what is meant by ‘endurance’ in hockey, tennis and other sports? To really understand, we must first clear our minds of misleading concepts from fitness experts: Eliminate words like “cardio, aerobics and long, slow distances.” Then, watch Olympic sports with a critical eye, and you’ll have a better definition. Endurance is: maintenance of acceleration and skill for the entire contest.
That definition will steer your training for hockey in a much better direction than “cardio or long-slow aerobic training.”
Many Olympians have spent hours in the weight room, of course, and this is invariably shown in the up-close and personal biographies on TV. Heavy, heavy weight training is photogenic. However, they don’t show Usain Bolt developing acceleration and speed as a youngster, the way every sprinter did. Sprinting is also the top off-ice training for hockey acceleration, especially if it is combined intelligently with strength development in and out of the weight room.
Every coach would add an additional thought: As important as acceleration is in hockey, nothing matters as much as competitiveness. Besides a tenacious, competitive spirit, young players must acquire vision and playmaking abilities like Wayne Gretzky, Abby Wambach or Lebron James. Neuroscientists are finding it is critical to practice this at a young age as Gretzky did on the backyard pond and playing other sports.
Play. It is essential. For the most creative playmakers on the basketball court, the soccer pitch or the hockey rink, multi-tasking comes from unstructured pickup games and skill practice without coaching. We’re losing this creative element in hockey, because coaches, youth associations and AAA entrepreneurs demand way too much structure and control. It’s interesting the U.S. soccer coaches are saying the same thing. Play.
Develop athleticism, competitive sense and skills the way Olympians and NHL’ers did when they were young. It is irrelevant how they train now as mature athletes. You want to know how they got there.