Why your kid is slow!

Speed is one of the most coveted qualities in every sport, but especially hockey. As a result, it’s the most common training goal I hear from athletes, parents, and coaches, both at Endeavor and when I get questions through email.

A couple weeks ago I had a dad drive his 13 year old son down to Endeavor for an assessment. It was great working with the kid because, despite being so young, he was really interested in improving and dialed into the importance of not just training, but training properly.

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The main reason they decided to make the trip is because the player was a step slow for the level he was at. Again, this is something I hear A LOT, so I think providing some of the more common limitations to speed in these situations is helpful.

After going through our assessment process, we discovered:

  1. He was a giant for his age (around 5’6″ and 157)
  2. He had a 1/2″ of ankle dorsiflexion on his left side, -1/2″ on his right
  3. His single-leg stability was poor, not allowing him to perform a 1-leg SLDL (unloaded) or split squat with proper alignment
  4.   He did one chin-up, but couldn’t do one push-up with proper torso control (e.g. not letting the lower back overarch and hips sag on the way up)

In summary, we have a player that was far above average in terms of his size, had exceptionally limited ankle dorsiflexion, poor single-leg stability, and generally wasn’t strong.

Growth Spurts Compromise Coordination

To break things down a little more, it’s extremely common for kids that go through growth spurts to have coordination issues. It’d be like you standing on stilts and trying to go through your normal daily behavior. It takes the nervous system some time to repattern around new levers and a higher center of support.

Hockey Development-Physiological Factors

There is considerable variation at the timing of the development of different systems in the body

Ankle Mobility Matters

The standard for ankle dorsiflexion range of motion in the test we use is 4″ bilaterally. He had 1/2″ on one side and negative motion on the other.

Not having ankle mobility is a big deal.

It will prevent him from being able to get into a good acceleration position as he won’t be able to position his knees appropriately in front of his foot to get a strong push back. It will also cause his foot to collapse in anytime he tries to get into these positions that he doesn’t have the range for.

Optimal Skating Stance

Despite being in a skate boot, the ankle needs to move well to get into good skating positions.

When the foot collapses in, the knee tends to collapse in with it. This not only leads to compromised stability on the stance leg while skating, but it also causes players to ride their inside edge more, effectively increasing the friction between their skate blade and the ice, slowing them down a little on each stride.

Lastly, ankle dorsiflexion is tied to hip extension so limitations in ankle mobility are likely to be mirrored by limitations in hip mobility. An easy way to understand this concept is to think of your ankle and hip position as you’re walking. When you transfer your weight over your foot, your ankle needs to go through dorsiflexion (shin transfers forward over your foot) as your hip extends. A lack of dorsiflexion will cause your heel to peel up early, which prevents the hip from going through extension. Given how important hip range of motion is to the skating stride, it’s essential that we don’t neglect some of these secondary drivers of hip mobility limitations.

Strength Is the Foundation For Speed

It’s extremely rare that I see athletes that have above average strength and reasonable body composition and are still slow. There’s a reason for this. Movement is driven by ground reaction forces.  In this case, the force a player is above to drive through the ice is what propels them forward. If you can’t produce a lot of force, you can’t produce it quickly…meaning you can’t be fast.

Limitations to Improved Speed

Anytime someone comes to train with me, I try to think of their training goal in terms of what is limiting them from achieving that goal, and then what do I have the best ability to influence. For example, a player that comes to me with the same goal, but is mobile, stable, powerful, and strong may be best served by seeking out a skating coach. A player that has all the tools, but suffers from consistency issues may need help outside of training or on-ice settings (e.g. with diet or sleep behaviors).

In this case, the player has very notable (and common) limitations in areas that will directly impair his speed. If he can clean up his ankle mobility, get on a quality full body strength training program, and work on his single-leg stabilization strategies, he’ll be able to get into better skating positions on the ice, apply more force into the ice with each stride, and maintain a more stable stance leg to decrease the friction with the ice and get more out of each push from the stride leg.

Understandably, most players think they need to do more sprints if they want to get faster. This strategy works, but only to a small extent. In this case, the player would basically be maxing out his speed potential with limited ankle mobility, compromised single-leg stability, and poor force producing ability. In contrast, if he addresses these limitations first, he’ll not only be faster, he’ll have more room for improvement moving forward.

Wrap Up

Wrapped in all of this discussion is an underlying message to parents of youth players that you need to be patient. Puberty is a wild ride, and having worked with players at a variety of ages across many years, I can say, confidently, that the kids that excel early aren’t always the ones that are still ahead of the pack a few years later. Be patient and continue to emphasize good practice/training habits and having fun!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you’re interested in off-ice speed training exercises for hockey players, check out Breakaway Hockey Speed, which now comes with a full downloadable exercise database!

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“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University