Need For Speed

The best hockey players are the ones who play the game at high speeds. They’re the guys who play with pace and tempo.  These players are easy to recognize on the ice.  They don’t sit back and wait for plays to happen...they take their game to you.  They're always on the puck and when they get it, they make you pay with split second decisions. They have high energy that is matched with constant involvement in all three zones on the ice. Whether it’s back pressure, pursuit, joining the rush or separation speed…these are the qualities possessed by the hockey ELITE. 

If you truly want to be a great hockey player, you must IMPROVE YOUR SPEED.

Don’t be fooled by gimmicks and programs that lack substance.  These days everyone and their mother offer’s some type of speed, agility and quickness class (SAQ).  It is not as simple as setting up a few cones and a speed ladder. Improving speed involves much more than that.  It requires a plan and an understanding of the 8 qualities that influence speed of movement:

1.    Strength: This quality is often overlooked by off ice performance coaches, but let’s be clear, strength is the prerequisite for speed.  When you get stronger you will be able to apply more force into the ice.  The more force you can generate, the faster you will be.  Strength is a major component of speed, but just getting stronger does not always make you faster. There are plenty of athletes who are jacked and strong but slow.  However, in my experience the majority of athletes today have a strength deficit that is keeping them from getting faster.  If you want to get faster, the most important thing you must do, is get stronger.  Any coach that argues this point is totally inept and knows very little about speed development. There are many different strength qualities: absolute strength, maximal strength, starting strength, explosive strength, strength-speed, yielding strength and reversal strength, are some examples.  A qualified strength coach will know exactly how and when to program the aforementioned qualities.

2.    Stretch shortening process: Explosive athletes are the best at activating the stretch shortening process.  Imagine your muscles acting like a spring to propel you into motion.  Think of the stretch shortening process as a combination of strength and speed. Speed strength, starting strength, explosive strength, reactive strength and plyometrics are all heavily influenced by the stretch shortening process. These qualities bridge the gap between weight room strength and on ice speed. 

3.    Motor coordination:  Smooth, efficient and well timed movement is the gold standard for motor coordination.  Hockey is a fast paced, chaotic and unpredictable sport.  This type of environment requires superior skating, great balance and nifty stick skills.  All of which are dependent upon high levels of motor coordination.  90% of an athlete’s coordination is established by age 12.  Pee wee major and younger levels should place a large emphasis on developing general coordination.  If done properly, this will have a tremendous influence on speed of movement. Bantam age and older will just be wasting time by focusing on general coordination.  That ship has sailed!

4.    Muscle endurance: Contrary to popular belief, hockey is NOT an endurance sport.  Spending time on an exercise bike or running long distances will NOT make you faster.  In fact, spending too much time with these types of exercises is a sure way to get slower.  Muscle endurance for hockey should be defined as an athlete’s capacity to repeat explosive efforts, maintain postures and technical efficiency over the course of an entire game.  It is important to recognize that a player typically takes 30-60 second shifts and then comes off to recover for a minute or more.  Off ice training should include phases that reflect similar demands.  An emphasis should be placed on challenging the athlete to grind out work in the weight room for 30-60 seconds while maintaining technical efficiency and clean movement.  When programmed properly, no one will ever question your conditioning.  Just as important, muscle endurance will serve as an excellent foundation for safer, more effective strength and power work.  

5.    Ability to relax: Think cool, calm, and collected…that is the ability to relax.  The best athletes are those who have familiarity with specific situations.  They perform with confidence and make smart decisions because, “they’ve been there and done that”.  They don’t get frazzled.  The ability to relax is namely dependent upon confidence, conditioning, hockey sense, skill and personality. 

*The next three qualities have very limited trainability, if any at all.  They just are, what they are….so don’t spend a lot of your time trying to get better at 6, 7 and 8! 

6.    Quickness and

7.    Reactive Ability*: Quickness and reactive ability are King and Queen of speed.  If you possess these qualities you can thank your parents!  This is because quickness and reactive ability are determined by your genetics.  They are general qualities of the central nervous system and the potential to develop them is minimal.  An athlete with a high level of quickness and reactive ability can do special things… they will easily avoid a big hit and leave you wondering how the puck got in the back of the net so fast.  When a coach says he can improve quickness or reactive ability, take warning!  He’s either a scam artist or doesn’t understand basic physiology. 

8.    External Factors* These are conditions that are almost always changing.  Opponents, ice conditions, equipment, temperature and coaches yelling at you are all examples of external conditions; all of which can influence speed.  Most external factors are virtually impossible to manage. Focus only on the one’s you can control!  For example, make sure your skates are sharpened and wear unrestrictive equipment.

Speed of movement is influenced by many factors.  Some are God given, a few have very limited potential for development and others can be improved. One thing for sure, 30 plus goal scorers, top defenseman and all-star goalies all possess high levels of speed.  If you want to be like them, make sure to focus on the qualities that can be improved.  A great strength and conditioning coach will know exactly how to design a program that will bridge the gap between weight room strength and on ice speed.

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References

Supertraining, Dr. Mel Siff copyright 2003, sixth edition, pg 139

Poliquin Theory 1 Manual, Poliquin International Certification Program

 

-last edit 2/24/2017