Considerations for Agility Testing in Ice Hockey

One of the things I’ve heard coaches mention frequently over the years is that a player “doesn’t move well laterally.”
There are some key physical contributors to transitional patterns (e.g. range of motion, eccentric strength & rate of force development, effective use of range-specific stretch-reflex/stretch-shortening cycle), but skating technique and body control are also essential to consider.
As with every aspect of performance, if we’re going to say something is important, it’s helpful to have an objective way to measure it, to truly identify whether limitations in change of direction (COD) need to be addressed specifically, or if there are underlying qualities that should be targeted first.
Off the ice, it’s common to measure acceleration with 10-40 yard linear sprints, and COD ability with a 5-10-5 (among others).
On the ice, a goal to blue sprint is ~64-feet on a standard NHL rink and all face-off circles are standardized at a 10-yard diameter, so it’s easy to use the circles to perform on-ice 5-10-5s.
While it may seem logical to simply look at time in both tests as indicators of acceleration and COD ability, respectively, this paper from Dr. Sophia Nimphius and colleagues points out that COD time correlates to linear sprint time, meaning that the linear sprints in between direction changes may be clouding how we’re interpreting an athlete’s efficiency through the transition.

To account for this, an alternative way to interpret COD tests is to use the COD Deficit, which is the difference in time between a COD test, and a linear sprint test, ideally of the same distance.

For example, the 5-10-5 pro agility test is 20 yards, so it’d be ideal to compare it to a 20-yard linear sprint (the 64’ on-ice sprint isn’t perfect, but still appropriate).

In this table I have times in a linear sprint test, and 5-10-5 test ranked by color, and while there are some discrepancies, the majority of the colors are identical… meaning performance relative to the group in both tests are the same.
The last column has the COD Deficit time color coded, and there is much more divergence from the other two columns, which on the surface suggests that it’s providing different information.

  1. Looking at the 6th row from the top, the linear sprint and on-ice pro agility times are both slow, but the COD deficit is among the better ones in the group. This implies that the athlete will benefit most from improving general speed qualities, and NOT focusing on COD ability, despite a slow COD time.
  2.  Looking at the 15th row, this player is fast in a straight line and in pro agility time, but had a middling COD deficit time, implying the player may benefit from a greater focus on agility and not need as much time dedicated to traditional speed training methods.
  3. Lastly, the 4th and 9th rows from the bottom show clear examples of players that are fast in a straight line, but their COD ability is so bad that it overshadows their linear speed in the COD test.

The ability to efficiently transition is incredibly important to performance in ice hockey. 

Simply…More valid assessments = more specific prescription = better results.

Feel free to post any comments/questions below. If you found this helpful, please share/re-post it so others can benefit!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use testing to drive training prescription, check out my presentation “Performance Profiling as a Platform for Program Design” in the Optimizing Adaptation and Performance series I did with Mike Potenza and James LaValle.

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