Developing Athleticism: Move Your Body
Posted by Dean Holden at October 10th, 2015
by Jack Blatherwick, 30 September 2015
Children and adolescents are not small adults … of course. They cannot and should not try to train the same way college athletes do. Yet it is common to fit this all-important round peg into a square hole – athletic development vs. strength, strength and more strength. The college strength model is not wrong, but way too limited for children/adolescents whose CNS (brain + spinal cord) is learning at such a rapid pace.
The goal during these formative years is to develop a broad base of explosive, reactive athleticism – built to respond seamlessly to unpredictable challenges during competition.
College strength programs prioritize extremely heavy weight training, which features slow movement of the athlete’s body, deceleration in the last half of the lift, movement of a barbell restricted to one plane only, and lacking unpredictable, random challenges to the CNS that characterize hockey games.
This strength model may be productive at times in a college setting, if it is done with safe weights under the supervision of the strength coach. However, even at that level, it should be combined creatively with highly dynamic, skating-specific, explosive movement of the athlete’s body, not just movement of a barbell.
At younger ages, where heavy weight training is not as productive or safe, the stimulus for strength development should come from explosive activities like jumping, sprinting and skating at 100 percent effort – activities that are not emphasized nearly enough. For example, during a set of repeated squat jumps, the peak forces can reach 4-8 times body weight. That’s strength training!
But strength alone is simply one element of athletic development. The object is to combine strength with speed, quickness, agility and dynamic balance – coordinated with core stability to produce synergy of movement. Development is like training an orchestra to be much more than the sum of individual parts.
In other words, turn weight rooms into “speed gyms.” Develop athletes – not specialists in one piece of the puzzle – not necessarily the strongest, fastest or most agile. Develop athletes who combine these elements efficiently at the appropriate moments when competition dictates the need.
Beyond that, training should include elements of uncertainty, like unstable footing, because ice is as unstable as any playing surface in sports. Add dynamic balance and core stability during explosive movement with unpredictable, random challenges that promote greater reactivity and diverse neural development.
Given that long list, and adding creative, instantaneous, read-react decisions, it is impossible to challenge the CNS adequately in most common well-defined (“blocked”) drills. Therefore, the best of all training is play – chaotic, unpredictable play. Modern science indicates that diverse sports participation during childhood accelerates motor learning later during adolescence when training for hockey skills and athleticism is more focused. This neuroplasticity is actually “seen” as anatomical changes in the CNS.
We need more play in youth hockey – scrimmages without scoreboards and faceoffs. Hockey is learned by trial-and-error, but errors and creativity are discouraged when the priority is to win. Let hockey, itself, be the teacher.
Herb Brooks summarized it this way, “Return the game to the kids.”
My favorite poem (and one of the few I understand, by the way) is inscribed into the sidewalk of a neighborhood elementary school. It offers realistic advice for educators, and places the development of hands-feet-mind where it is most effective, in the random experiences of play, where trial-and-error and creative playmaking are not limited by adult authoritarian “wisdom.”
I don’t know enough about balance
to tell you how to do it.
I think, though,
it’s in the trying and letting go.