In-Season Youth Hockey Training Program

A few days back, I posted an article discussing several things that need to be considered when designing an in-season hockey training program. While this was really framed within the context of hockey, the reality is that these same principles are relevant for every sport, and for every time of year. If you missed that post, I’d encourage you to check it out here: 5 In-Season Hockey Training Considerations

Today I wanted to follow up on the topic of in-season hockey training by sharing the intro phase we’re using for our youth midget-aged players. This is just one of several programs posted to the Ultimate Hockey Training Insider’s Section each month, which along with the 800+ video database, is a great resource for those of you looking for a little more structure to your programs and some new exercise ideas.

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The goal of sharing this program isn’t necessarily to give you something to print and use, but to help refer back to some of the topics covered in the previous article and provide some real life examples of how we’re implementing those concepts in our setting.

Phase 1: Day 1

A1) Hang Clean Technique: 3×5
A2) Glute Bridge: 3x(3x10s)
B1) Front Squat: (2-0-2 Tempo): 3×6
B2) 1-Arm DB Row: (2-0-2 Tempo): 3×6/side
C1) Slideboard Hamstring Curl: 3×8
C2) DB Chest Press: 3×8
D1) Split Squat IsoHold: 3x30s/side
D2) Front Plank: 3x25s
D3) Side Plank: 3x20s/side

Phase 1: Day 2

A1) Hang Clean Technique: 3×5
A2) MiniBand Knees Out: 3x(6x5s)
B1) Stiff-Legged Deadlift (2-0-2 Tempo): 3×6
B2) Loaded Push-Up (2-0-2 Tempo): 3×6
C1) DB Reverse Lunge: 3×8/side
C2) Chin-Up: 3×6
D1) 2-Way Skater: 3×12/side
D2) Front Plank: 3x25s
D3) Side Plank: 3x20s

This is “Week 2” of this program. Week 1 started out with one less set for the B-D blocks and a little less time for the planks and IsoHold. Every training session is preceded by foam rolling and a dynamic warm-up. Being an “Intro” phase, the primary goals of this program are to:

  1. Familiarize every player with the PROCESS of proper training. Simply, I want players to internalize the daily process of foam rolling, warming up, training under a structured program with a coach, and then stretching.
  2. Have all of the player learn how to perform all of the primary exercises properly. Many will be familiar with some of these movements already. Some will pick up the new ones quickly; others will not. Exercise technique, like any skill, requires practice. My philosophy is that hockey players (and athletes…and everyone else) need to learn to move well before they move faster, under load, or more often. As a result, Phase 1 puts a primary emphasis on motor learning, which helps create a foundation of quality movement and exercise proficiency that we can build on in the future.
  3. Allow players to acclimate to practicing 2-3 days per week, playing 2-4 games on the weekends and training 2 days per week on top of it. With the increased on-ice load that comes from the start of the season, it’s important to remember that we can’t just keep adding more and more training stress to the athletes and expect them to recover. This drastic increase in on-ice work also comes with increased travel demands, and coincides with starting school, which means extremely long days (up at 6am, home from practice at 10pm, off of Twitter by 12, up at 6 again). In-season training in general, but especially the first phase, should be kept fairly low volume to account for this and ensure that the training isn’t pushing them past the threshold of stress they’re able to recover from.

Returning back to the previous article, we can break down this program in light of the 5 recommendations I made.

1) Age of the Player/Stage of Development
Midget-aged players are in the tail end of the “Speed 2” and “Stamina” window and entering the “Strength” window. This first phase, as mentioned above, is more motor learning (one of the goals of the 2-0-2 tempo is to slow the motion down and allow the players to feel their way through the full range) than strength oriented, but this phase is laying the foundation for the strength work to come. The next phase uses an almost identical exercise list, but the loads, sets, reps, and tempos are altered in a way that still emphasizes the motor learning component, but puts a greater emphasis on strength. There is a clear component of local muscular endurance (one form of stamina) for the lower body/hip musculature with split squat isohold and high-rep 2-way skater exercises, but because both of them are fairly isometric in nature, they won’t result in a lot of soreness. Improved focus on strength in the future will support the speed work that players are getting on the ice.

2) On-Ice Demands
Players at this age group train at our facility 3-4 days per week in the off-season (U-16s tend to be 3, U-18s are 4). Training sessions tend to be 75-90 minutes. When the season starts, the kids are only training 2 days per week for 60 minutes, with about 15-20 of those minutes spent on low stress things like foam rolling, warming up, stretching, etc. In short, the training volume is drastically reduced. Also, you’ll note that sprints, plyometrics, slideboarding, shuttle runs, etc. are all missing from this program. While I think there is a place for some of this work in in-season programs, in general players at this age group are getting the majority of their speed, power, and interval-based conditioning work on the ice. We return to some of these qualities in one form or another in future phases, but definitely not the first one.

3) Practice Plan/Game Schedule/Travel Demands
This part can get a little trickier depending on how much the hockey coach communicates with our coaches. We aren’t always aware of the on-ice practice plan, which isn’t ideal, but is understandable at this level. That said, we almost always know when teams have a big weekend (important games and/or 3-4 games), and can adjust the program accordingly. There are lots of different strategies to alter training stresses before or after a big game, but some of the ones we use most frequently are:

  1. Doing one less set of all the exercises
  2. Cutting loads down so all sets are completed easily, putting an emphasis on perfect form and moving through the lift quickly to create more of an aerobic effect
  3. Only performing the explosive movement and core work (the A and D blocks above, but without isoholds or 2-way skaters)
  4. Bailing on the lift altogether and simply spend extra time rolling, warming up, and stretching

Periodically, the coach will just cancel off-ice, which isn’t always a bad thing. For example, we had one team play 10 games in the last two weekends and cancel a few off-ice training sessions during that stretch. While I don’t necessarily think anyone (especially not players at this age) should play 1/4 of a college hockey season in two weekends, I do think given the ridiculous fatigue accumulated in ONE weekend like this, let alone two, makes canceling training the right call.

4) Soft-Tissue/Muscle Stresses
All of the players foam roll, warm up, and stretch every day they’re with us. The stretching puts a very lopsided emphasis on stretching the glutes/posterior hip region, which I’ve found to be an effective strategy in helping players recover from and minimize risk for groin and hip flexor strains. We also steer clear of any focused work from a training standpoint for these areas during the first phase because of the on-ice load put on these muscle groups.

5) Logistical Considerations
Over the last year, we were able to acquire a larger space at the rink to train the youth players that play there, and we also moved more equipment over so space and equipment constraints aren’t as bad as they used to be. It’s certainly come a long way from doing all body weight work in the winter in the parking lot or rink lobby! I remember teaching 20 U-16 players with minimal lifting experience how to hang clean in an old party room that could be more than 700 sq ft. While far from ideal, I believe strongly that those situations are where you can really learn how to coach, and the kids learn to stay focused because there simply isn’t enough space to screw around. All of that said, part of the simplicity of these programs is to account for the ~16-20:1 Athlete:Coach ratio we’re working with. Again, a program is only as effective as the athletes’ ability to perform it correctly. As a result, there shouldn’t be anything in the program that we don’t feel comfortable coaching. In the past, we used more “Tri-Sets” (e.g. A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3, etc.), but have backed away from that this year in an effort to keep things simpler and a little more organized from a traffic flow standpoint.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of the rationale for how I’ve designed our in-season programs and provides a few real life examples of how to implement the information mentioned here: 5 In-Season Hockey Training Considerations

If you want access to more training programs and the largest hockey training exercise database out there, be sure to check out the Ultimate Hockey Training Insider’s Section! As always, if you have any questions, please post them below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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