Youth Hockey Training Blueprint: Part 1

Several months ago I wrote a 3-part article series on designing off-ice hockey training programs for youth hockey organizations for Hockey Strength and Conditioning. The series outlines the realities that many coaches face in these situations, which involves sub-optimal space, equipment, and coach:athlete ratio. The goal with this article is to dissect my thought process in how I went about developing the programs for the organization, in hopes that all of you working in similar situations may be able to pick up some helpful hints.

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Youth Hockey Training Blueprint: Part 1

Training an entire youth hockey organization provides a unique opportunity to integrate long-term off-ice player development strategies into the program. From a hockey standpoint, the coaches will benefit from having more physical developed and structurally balanced players, ultimately leading to more successful seasons. From an off-ice standpoint, players are able to develop proficiencies in exercise technique and general off-ice training habits that will both improve their ability to smoothly transition to college or professional levels AND increase the probability that they’ll possess the athleticism and resiliency to compete at those levels.

For the last several years, we’ve had an organization-wide agreement with a local Tier I youth hockey club. In years past, the program was run like most typical off-ice training systems using “line drills” and body weight exercises almost exclusively. While this environment certainly does not preclude benefits in athleticism and injury resistance, it absolutely limits the freedom in training strategies in which to develop these qualities.  This is the first year that we’ve been able to designate and equip a training space within the rink, which led to a somewhat drastic overhaul in the design of the program. The purpose of this “Off-Ice Training Blueprint” is to provide a step-by-step illustration of the program design for this organization, from age-specific philosophies to periodization implementation to exercise selection. When appropriate, environment-specific limitations will be addressed with the hopes that differences in this regard between our setting and yours will not limit your ability to apply a similar thought-process to implementing your program.

Space and Equipment Availability

As I alluded to previously, the amount and nature of the available space and equipment will play an important role in designing the training program. We currently have access to:

  1. ~900 sq ft Designated Training Space
    1. 4 barbells
    2. ~12 each of 45, 25, 10, and 5 lb weight plates
    3. Dumbbell rack with one set from 5lbs through 50lbs
    4. 3 stability balls
    5. 1 chin-up bar
    6. Two suspended handles
    7. 4 8’ slideboards
    8. 1 flat benches
    9. 1 adjustable bench
    10. ~20 minibands
    11. ~12 med balls (3-4 kg)
  2. ~30 yard hallway directly outside of designated training space
  3. Snack bar area
  4. Enclosed room (~700 sq ft)

This is where all the magic happens!



The snack bar area, while large, is almost entirely unusable space. With the distraction of TVs, parents, view of two ice sheets, and general background noise, getting a team of youth kids to focus in this space is nearly impossible. Unfortunately, because of scheduling, it is not possible for every team to spend their time in the designated training space; nor is this space necessarily optimal for the development of certain qualities. The hallway is great for warming up and doing basic core work (e.g. planks, bridges, miniband exercises, etc.), but can become both wet and crowded so can’t be relied on. The enclosed area is not always available and is on a different floor from the designated training space (upstairs near the snack bar).

Player Profile

The organization currently has 9 teams divided by birth year from ‘02’s-‘97’s, with two U-16 teams and one U-18 team. Each team has between 14-20 players, with younger teams typically residing on the lower end of this range and older teams residing on the upper end. The organization, although young, boasts an impressive alumni of players that have moved on to the Division I level, especially given that it is located outside of Camden, NJ (not exactly a hockey hotbed!). The players are lucky to have a few former NHL players serving as coaches. The success of past players combined with the prowess of the coaching staff tends to attract more motivated players that are serious about competing at high levels and weeds out a lot (although not all) of the behavior problems associated with babysitting a team of players that aren’t interested in their own development.

Coaching Availability

On any given night, we have two coaches that are available to run the sessions. The hockey coaches are supportive, but not expected to be present during the sessions.

General Training Philosophy

From a long-term player development perspective, the two most important outcomes from our off-ice training program are:

  1. Develop proper training habits
  2. Become proficient at foundational exercises

From a more short-term perspective, it is reasonable for players to expect improvements in:

  1. Overall athleticism
  2. Injury-resistance

Despite the expected desires of players, parents, and coaches, the long-term perspective must be preserved in the pursuit of short-term goals. In other words, quality cannot be negated in the interest of quantity. Off-ice training is about improving a player’s speed, but it’s not JUST about improving a player’s speed. It’s about improving strength, but not JUST about improving strength. Players need to be taught how to position (read: posture) themselves and move properly before adding load or volume. Likewise, players need to internalize a proper training process before progressing to more advanced strategies for the development of any one physical quality. Dynamic warm-ups aren’t nearly as sexy as maximum strength work, but they’re just as important to a player’s development.

Part 2 will dive more into age-specific training principles and guidelines, and provide examples of the exact dynamic warm-ups we use for these teams. Stay tuned!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Don’t forget to check out Hockey Strength and Conditioning for more great hockey training tips!

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