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

Speed Training for Hockey

In my experience, most hockey players are terrible runners. The trend over the last decade or so for hockey players to specialize early, play year-round, and not participate in other sports (or train) has created a number of extremely talented hockey players that lack basic levels of athleticism (Quick side note: Many think this is fine since these players are proficient at their main sport, but these are usually the players that end up chronically hurt). I’m not of the thought that hockey players need to have perfect running form, as this generally takes a substantial amount of time and energy to ingrain. That said, I think teaching the players to move in the sagittal plane and apply force into the ground have positive implications for both injury reduction and performance enhancement.

In this regard, we’ve been very fortunate at Endeavor to have Matt Siniscalchi on our staff. Matt has a track background and has been outstanding in getting our hockey players to run…less like hockey players…with a few simple coaching cues. He’s been so effective in this regard that I thought it would be good to get him on here to share his secrets with you. Enter Matt…

To begin with, I want to thank Kevin, David Lasnier, and Jared Beach for the opportunity to work at Endeavor.  Before coming here I never could have imagined coaching at a place where each training session is both educationally engaging and highly motivating.  The coaches and trainees both benefit.  As Kevin mentioned, part of my coaching background involved working with sprinters and hurdlers.  During my time in college I had the opportunity to coach track for two seasons (a significant learning experience).  Now that I am coaching at Endeavor, I realize how simple cues make a significant impact on an athlete’s technique.

Being around track and football for most of my life, I have heard many different coaching cues to help athletes to reach their full potential. For example, “drive your knees up,” “pump your arms,” “KICK,” and “quick feet” are some of the cues that help athletes think about their running technique.  A common misconception is that the faster or quicker athletes drive their knee and (opposite) arm forward the faster they will sprint. This deceiving cue can cause athletes to move their extremities quickly, but not translate into a greater displacement of their center of mass.

Speed is not about quick limb movements; it’s the ability to apply force into the ground or ice.  Speed is about maximizing the horizontal component while minimizing the vertical component.  When observing world class sprinters, they have a level-head placement minimizing a “head-bobbing” action.  This minimizes that vertical component. This is not to say that there is no merit to exercises like vertical jumps, box jumps, and strength exercises for the posterior chain that may warrant a vertical action, as these are all paramount in becoming stronger and faster, but simply to suggest that you shouldn’t observe a significant degree of vertical motion while watching an athlete sprint.

In my experience, if the athlete can focus on the few details below, they will become smoother, faster runners.  While viewing a staff meeting about Olympic lifts by Mike Boyle, there was a common theme.  If the movement does not look athletic, it probably isn’t.  Sprinting is no different.  I take a very simple approach to technique for sprinting.  I could say I am Dan John-esque in my approach to sprint technique.  Focus on one cue at a time and do not progress until the athlete has mastered the first.

Common Flaw

  • Head motion: Avoid tilting the head in any direction

Corrective Cue:

  • Eye Focus: I have watched countless athletes over the past few months instantly run smoother just by picking up this simple cue.  Tell your athletes to focus on a point straight ahead of where they’re running that meets with their eye-level.  When they sprint, that spot should stay fixed and not deviate from its position.  This prevents a bobbing of the head (up and down) or any side to side discrepancies.

Common Flaw

  • Minimal arm action or too much across the midline

Corrective Cue

  • Hammer down with the arm: Often times the hockey players I have coached (as well as many other athletes) seem to cross their midline or have limited arm action.  Picture yourself as if holding a hammer that needed to smash a giant nail that was sticking out from the wall behind them slightly below the hip.  Keeping the elbows squeezed toward their body, hammer down and back as if envisioning that nail going back into the wall.  Anytime the arms come away from the body there is a rotational component that we want to limit while sprinting.

Common Flaw

  • Short “choppy” strides

Corrective Cue

  • Move the ground beneath you:  A lot of hockey players take an excessive amount of steps to only get 10-15 yards when accelerating from a sprint. This is likely the result of taking a “quick feet” approach to speed training. These athletes are usually losing potential angular velocity because of the lack of hip extension.  As mentioned above, it is not about how many steps the athlete takes but how much force they can apply down and back into the ground.  Have the athletes envision trying to move the ground underneath them similar to a treadmill that is not on.  They would have to push down and back pretty hard.  Along these same lines, I have been using a cue of “knees forward” instead of “knees up.

I tend to favor the eye focus and hammering down cues the most.  For some reason, when they apply these their runs are smoother and effortless.  Endeavor is a private facility so we only have so much time on speed work which limits the amount of time for coaching sprint technique.  As a result, I have the athletes use the eye focus during the final of our dynamic warm-up where we perform side-shuffles, carioacas, back pedals, butt kicks, and ¾ speed jogs.  Another way to get the most out of coaching these cues is using them during conditioning at the end of the session that is performed on the track or turf.  The duration of time they have while running shuttles allows for the athletes to focus on the cues provided.  Remember, it is hard to focus on these cues if they are running at full pace all the time.  I’ve actually promoted athletes running slower the first few times in order to get the movement technique down before they start going all out in their conditioning.  Coaching sprint technique should follow progressions just like any other exercise. Sometimes you need to regress speed to focus on technique as you would with a complex exercise like hang cleans. Treat speed training that way and I think you will be surprised at how well your athletes will sprint in the long run.

Cheers,

Matt

Matt started a website several months ago and has since developed a pretty solid following. I like Matt’s site because he’s constantly reading and studying information to become a better coach so I can generally pick up some new tips from resources that I haven’t had an opportunity to look into. If you’re interested, check it out here: Matt Siniscalchi Strength and Conditioning

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you haven’t already, you can get a free copy of my speed training manual “Breakaway Hockey Speed” by entering your name and email below!

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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.