Developing A Youth In-Season Hockey Training Model

One of the things that’s really set our programs at Endeavor apart from our competitors is the fact that we develop systematic, progressive training programs, opposed to just throwing together “workouts” for kids to do on any given day. I heard a great quote several years ago (I believe from Mike Boyle, but don’t hold me…or him…to that):

“Any idiot with a whistle can make kids tired.”

The reality is that many folks (players, parents, coaches, most humans in general) equate being tired with effective training. I always say that you have to move well before you move more, faster, or under load. Skipping this step is one of the reasons why so many players breakdown and suffer muscle strains and other soft-tissue injuries during off-ice (As an aside, we haven’t had a single off-ice training related injury in the last two years while training an entire youth organization). Not to mention, continuing to push and push from an effort standpoint, on- and off the ice, is a recipe for overtraining/underrecovery (one reason why players hit a wall in January/mid-season).

I say all that to say this: strategically planning and altering the off-ice stresses throughout the season will help ensure that players continue to progress athletically, while minimizing the risk of injury and overtraining. This is especially important as players get older for a number of reasons:

  1. Older players tend to have more frequent practices and more games, meaning they’re on the ice significantly more than their younger counterparts. More ice time means more stress to the body.
  2. Older players tend to have more muscle mass and a better developed nervous system that translates into having a higher drive. They have more mass to accelerate, are able to reach higher speeds, and therefore have more mass to decelerate during every shift or practice drill. All of this translates into a greater stress to the body with each practice and game, which requires a greater recovery effort.
  3. The game becomes more physical as the level progresses. In addition to the above stresses, superimposing more frequent high and low velocity contact takes it’s toll on the body.

All of these things explain why the strength and conditioning coaches at the highest levels are as much of “stress managers” as S&C practitioners. In other words, the overwhelming majority of in-season training efforts need to be designed with recovery in mind. One major difference between the highest levels (e.g. the NHL) and top youth levels (e.g. U-18 Tier I Elite League) is that, at least in theory, the NHL is a performance league, whereas U-18 is (or at least SHOULD be) a development league. This simply means that you’re able to push a little more in-season in the interest of achieving higher levels of performance.

Sitting down to design the in-season plan for our youth teams is one of the more fun parts of my job. We’re fortunate to work with an AWESOME group of kids, parents, and coaches with Team Comcast. This allows us some freedom to try new ideas from a programming standpoint, and we have enough communication with the coaches to know when we need to alter some of the off-ice stresses based on the coach’s desire to send a message, train harder before a light weekend, or back off a bit before an upcoming tournament.

Before writing a program, I first divided the organization up into three groups based on their age and where they fall in the long-term athletic development scheme that USA Hockey has done such a great job outlining for hockey players.

From here, I was able to superimpose this model onto the teams that Comcast has, and determine what the primary focus of each training group should be. It’s important to keep in mind at this point that “training focus” in this regard INCLUDES on-ice work, which we aren’t able to control. I’ve talked a lot about this in the past, but most relevant to this discussion, despite “speed” being a top priority for Group 2 (see below), we don’t program any off-ice speed work for this group as almost everything they do on the ice is speed oriented. Instead, we program complimentary qualities off the ice that will allow them to express their full speed potential on the ice, without overstressing the hip flexors and adductors, which are two of the more commonly injured muscle groups in hockey players (as you know).

The next step in this process was to lay out the number of weeks in a typical season (factoring in breaks for holidays), and then determine how I want to alter stresses across that time span.

These models simply put a more targeted focus on various time periods throughout the season without losing the focus of the long-term athletic development models presented above. Notably absent is a “Group A” periodization model. As I alluded to above, younger kids have a larger capacity to adapt to new stressors and, in general, don’t accumulate fatigue like older players do. All this means is that most of our progressions are in exercise or activity complexity, not necessarily in physiological specificity. As a result, it wasn’t necessarily to segregate a separate training model for that group, only to determine what a typical workout would look like, and progress accordingly.

Finally, the last step of the planning process before actually writing the programs is to outline the guidelines for each of the phases above.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not. You create the model once and you can use it for as long as it’s effective or until you learn something new that you think warrants changing. Following this process at the beginning of each season makes writing the actual programs extremely easy. It’s just a matter of determining how to most effectively teach and progress exercises to a large group and then plugging in the information from the tables above.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If want to ensure you’re choosing the right exercise strategies for your team, check out Ultimate Hockey Training, which outlines the exact exercise progressions and regressions to use for every major movement pattern, including multi-directional core training!

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