Training with tennis
Posted by Dean Holden at April 4th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 26 March 2014
Coaches I’ve addressed over several decades, define ‘hockey athleticism’ as, ‘Moving your body quickly and efficiently in all directions.’ In other words, speed, quickness and agility are at the very top of their priority list for development of young talent, alongside rink sense, competitiveness, stick skills and skating fundamentals. Summarized, it is ATHLETICISM, SKILL and ANTICIPATION.
The ATHLETICISM part, moving the body quickly and efficiently, is not emphasized enough in many weight rooms, where slow, heavy strength and more strength leave little time for quick, efficient acceleration of body weight. Strength training is constructive at every age, and in various forms – not always with a barbell. However, strength only contributes to skating quickness and agility when it is combined in creative ways with highly dynamic movement of your own body: sprints, jumps and agility drills.
It follows that hockey endurance should be defined as the maintenance of these qualities in the list above, not by using biochemical terms like aerobic and anaerobic metabolism that have misdirected our training for years. Those textbook-laboratory words are woefully inadequate to describe what’s happening in the body to produce high quality performance, shift after shift for an entire hockey game.
Hockey endurance training must take a more productive form than the tradition of compartmentalizing endurance into separate workouts: long, slow aerobic distances on one day (called ‘cardio’ workouts), and intense anaerobic intervals at a different time. This is especially true when we consider two facts: 1) Anaerobic interval training can be designed to produce cardiovascular and aerobic fitness to a much higher level than slow, aerobic training or ‘cardio,’ and 2) During play, a hockey game is ALWAYS a combination of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism, so this implies they should be trained together if possible, not separately.
(Note: Through interval training, your body becomes more efficient at ‘recycling’ waste products of anaerobic metabolism from one type of muscle cell to be used for aerobic metabolism in a different type of cell. Lactic acid is not a metabolic ‘poison’ as it is often called; it is just the opposite when the lactate portion is ‘recycled’ into a fuel. Therefore, endurance is partly a function of how efficiently the body does this, and like every process in the body, repetition increases efficiency. Sadly, that topic is left out of most discussions on endurance for sports).
There is no better way to accomplish this than to play active-movement sports like tennis and other racket sports, or lacrosse, basketball, soccer or football. Why? Because the elements of hockey athleticism are repeated over and over in practices and games.
Tennis is a great choice for development of athleticism, mainly because it doesn’t require an entire team and can be a great fitness activity for a lifetime. Speed, quickness, agility, leg strength and twisting core strength are fundamentals of tennis, along with important mental (hockey) skills like anticipation and competitiveness.
Tennis can be played at all levels of ability. Consider a fun, but tough game that requires very little skill and a lot of quickness, agility and anticipation. Compete in just the service courts, and add one additional rule: On every shot, the racket must strike the ball below the top of the net. In other words, you can’t hit it hard, so you must place it strategically. This means each competitor must anticipate and be very quick. Allow a brief rest between points, so the tempo remains high.
That’s hockey athleticism and endurance in one simple, off-ice game – certainly more productive than jogging. In the words of legendary coach Herb Brooks, development of ‘hockey athleticism’ requires, “Training SMART, not just training HARD.”