Friday, May 30, 2014

Keeping Hockey Kids in Shape Off-Season

    After the long, cold, hectic season, who isn't ready for a break to warm up and rest weary bones? While we all enjoy a little time away from the ice, no hockey parent wants their kid to melt into an out of shape summer slug. Christopher Costa, owner and operator of Philadelphia based Assist Performance, is here to assist. He has lots of advice on keeping our hockey kids fit,  while helping them to develop a wider array of movement and sports skills. All good, but let's also not forget the many benefits of free, imaginative, kid-directed play. Just think back to those happy, fun and carefree summer days of hide and seek, house, tag and red rover, red rover. It's not your imagination; many studies have shown the serious need for simple play!
Give It A Rest
     I suggest to all of my athletes, youth to college age, to take some time for themselves. Ideally,  2-3 weeks to basically remove yourself from the game. That includes mental relaxation and possibly injury healing. During that time, focus all energy on things that you enjoy outside the game, like golf, soccer, lacrosse or swimming. These sports will keep your athletic abilities sharp and give you time to develop a new focus.
   Once your energy stores have returned and injuries are healed, then off-season training should become priority. For the young guys and girls, the focus should be on non-weight bearing exercises that are sports-specific movements in hockey. While there will be no weight introduced, the Squirts and Pee Wees can work on building what we call neuromuscular adaptations through learning proper movement form. Speed and agility can be taught through fun, off-ice drills. Having a S&C Coach can help ensure proper form and function, while also preventing injury. 
    For the 14-16 year old group, hopefully, you've been following the above suggestions for a couple of years. Building a solid foundation for movement patterns is key toward preventing injuries. Now, you can add resistance to the movement patterns. Starting slowly is important here, as well. The muscles have developed through a process of neuromuscular adaptations, and the next step is to focus on hypertrophy (growth), speed, agility and power.

Fitness With Focus    
     The focus areas for proper off-season training is dependent upon three factors: age, sex and dysfunction. The dysfunction is a very broad term, because each athlete is different. Some may be fast, while others are slow but strong. I'm sure you've seen this in every team. In order to develop a well thought plan, you need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, parents, friends and coaches what they think your biggest weaknesses are. Make a list and rank them. Then, develop a focused program based on addressing those weaknesses during the entire training season.
Weighing the Weight Lifting Option
   I'm going out on a limb here and say, "be very selective." What I mean is, hire a STRENGTH coach that has experience with hockey players, namely specific for your child's age. Be sure to ask whether your coach of choice is well educated with hopefully a college degree based on kinesiology, exercise science or physiology. That will ensure that they possess knowledge in the entire physiological process. This will ensure that you are getting the best service and attention to detail.     
    Kids are at greater risk for injury because they have yet to be taught proper form.Without proper form, injury risk is high. A Strength Coach can teach your athlete the step by step process to develop safe, effective form.
    Training can begin as soon as your athlete has the right mindset. However, it is bet to avoid ALL resistance or weight bearing exercises prior to puberty. Once the onset of hormonal response has kicked in, athletes can begin to slowly introduce weights into the training protocol. since puberty onset can not be nailed to a specific age, it is best to wait until clear signs are apparent.

The Need for Speed  
     Fortunately, speed development can begin from a technical standpoint at a very young age. On-ice training can occur once players are competitive skaters. Drills such as 18m sprints ( blue line to blue line) are good methods to develop speed and cardiovascular endurance. 
  Off-ice drills can include ladders, sprints and plyometric exercises. Those type of movements develop speed and agility, while also developing explosive power in mature skaters.

How Much Hockey is Too Much Hockey?

    Sports burnout is real. Parents have a tendency to push their kids to be the best athletes. However, that push is referred to as over-reaching. This results in mental, physical and emotional fatigue that can be detrimental, both on and off the ice.
    Encouraging your kids to be active is the most important factor. If they are enjoying themselves, then your goal is fulfilled. Skills developed through other sports can translate to better performance on the ice. It prevents burnout and inspires a new level of focus. Who knows, maybe they'll love the other sports more? As parents, you need to realize that's okay! Restricting your child to hockey, may not be the best recipe for creating a passionate hockey player.
   If they want to play year-round and show little to no signs of burnout, then there should be no cause for concern. Suggesting other sports is a great idea. Just don't force it.

Got a question for Chris? Shoot away. Post one and he'll be happy to answer.

Christopher Costa owns and operates Assist Performance, based in Philadelphia, Pa. aP takes strength & conditioning to the next level, and specializes in ice hockey and golf. He previously interned with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2013-2014 season. Chris is slated to spend some time this summer under the New York Islanders organization.

Twenty-two years of ice hockey experience has allowed Chris to develop the talent, necessary education, and a forward thinking process that is sure to enhance athletic potential. If you or your child are interested in NCAA Division 1, Tier 1 Junior A, Major Junior, or simply strive to be the best in your league, please visit

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