Kevin Neeld — Hockey Training, Sports Performance, & Sports Science

Hockey Development Interview: Part 1

I was recently asked to do an interview with Kyle Coleman, a corporate chef based out of Phoenix, AZ. Kyle has taken on the noble task of asking experts in various sports/aspects of athletic development to weigh in on their thoughts on everything from nutrition to training to development programs in general. Kyle’s questions were great, so I wanted to share the interview with you. Check it out below:

1. Would you please give us some insight on what your position entails?

I’m the Director of Athletic Development at Endeavor Sports Performance, a private training facility for aspiring athletes competing from recreational youth to professional leagues. We work with athletes in every sport, but are best known for our ice hockey development programs.  On a day-to-day basis, my job involves writing training programs, coaching training sessions, supervising and scheduling our coaching staff, and providing content for our website and newsletters. On a grander scale, it’s my responsibility to stay current on new research and more effective training methods, implement any changes in assessment or program design structure, and help create the vision for the future of our company.

2. Which aspect of your position is the most gratifying?

I’m a coach first, everything else second. While I appreciate the program design aspect of things, coaching is really what gets me out of bed in the morning. Taking part in an athlete’s development is a special opportunity; one that I’m eternally grateful for.

3. What led you to becoming a Hockey Training Specialist, Athletic Development Coach?

The short story is that during my early youth years I was a skilled hockey player that was too fat or slow to compete at high levels. One solid off-season of training changed that for me, and I knew then (age 14) that I wanted to make a career out of helping other players do the same. Hockey has always been my passion, but working with athletes in other sports is equally gratifying and the fundamental principles that govern the design of programs for athletes in different sports are more similar than different.

4. What strength & conditioning program do you recommend for hockey?

A custom-written and professionally delivered one. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of hockey programs are still stuck in the “do some jumps and run around the rink” training system. An argument can be made that something is better than nothing, but the argument is not very strong in these cases. A solid program will account for the player or team’s starting place with regards to training history, be built around their schedule to optimize recovery time, and be progressive in nature. Most youth players that lift weights just print a bodybuilding program off the internet, and use it for a few months until they print off another one. The players we’ve trained that make the transition from training on their own are typically blown away by how different the approach is.

Training programs need to encompass all aspects of athletic development: mobility, speed, power, strength, conditioning, and recovery. The exclusion of any of these qualities will impair the development and/or transfer of all the others.

Players also need to be taught how to move correctly. This is a foreign concept to most players. It doesn’t matter how fast you move until you move well. That is the key to maximizing performance and minimizing injury risk.

I realize this is a long-winded response, but the primary message is that off-ice training is essential to a player’s development and shouldn’t be structured haphazardly or without profession help.

5. What are the qualities a parent should look for in a hockey training coach for their child?

From a professional standpoint, the coach should have some sort of academic background in exercise science or kinesiology, an understanding of the demands of hockey, and experience training hockey players (or at least other youth team sport athletes). From an interpersonal standpoint, the coach needs to care about and take pride in the players’ development. While most fitness professionals are relatively altruistic by nature, there are certainly exceptions that are just interested in making a quick buck. The best coaches are the ones that truly care about their players; they will be the ones that take the extra steps to ensure that the player’s development and succeed.

6. In what ways can parents help their youth athlete develop?

Start teaching proper lifestyle habits early. I understand that these will almost invariably be met with some level of resistance, and perfection is not expected, but some steps in the right direction are far better than no attempt at all. The two areas that kids need to focus on the most are sleep and nutrition. Sleep is relatively straight-forward. Kids need 8-9 hours per night, and should aim to go to bed and wake up at the same times (+/- an hour), everyday. If they get up at 6 for school, they shouldn’t sleep until noon on the weekends. Let them sleep until 7:30 or so and then get them up, have them eat breakfast and start moving around. If they feel like they need it, they can take a nap later. Consistency is key.

From a nutrition standpoint, kids need to be taught to eat REAL food. Real food refers to things that can be hunted or grown, or are only a few steps away from this most natural form (e.g. sprouted grain bread, greek yogurt, all natural peanut butter, etc.). In contrast, the diet of most kids consists of processed garbage that provides little in the way of quality nutrients. My friend Dr. Mike Roussell says to think of moving from barcodes to bags. More fruits and vegetables, less fruit snacks and chips. Remember that we’re supposed to get an absolute bare minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday, with 7-10 being more optimal. Just because kids “don’t like it” doesn’t meant hey don’t need it. Get creative in the delivery of these nutrients. Blend a bunch of stuff up in a smoothie with a flavor they like (our athletes love our smoothie recipes so I know it’s possible!) and have them eat that as their breakfast every morning.

As a final note, pre-/during-/post-game nutrition is important. Donuts and energy drinks are unacceptable. The real food rules apply here. Kids don’t need to suck down high sugar sports drinks after every practice and game. Stick with a few cups of water before and after, sipping on water throughout the practice/game, and a solid meal within an hour afterward. At higher levels, kids can help fuel their recovery by grabbing a 16 oz chocolate milk at a local store afterward. If player’s report not having enough energy during the game, take a closer look at the pre-game meal. If that’s solid, then look into Generation UCAN’s SuperStarch products, which provide a high quality energy source that doesn’t have the negative metabolic effects of most sports drinks (e.g. no spike and crash and still allows the athlete to use body fat as a primary fuel source).

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you’re looking for an off-ice training program for youth hockey players, check out my Off-Ice Performance Training Course!

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Kevin Neeld

Kevin Neeld Knows Hockey

Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.