Next year starts now.

Now that the season is over, coaches and parents have to decide what their child/athlete is going to do for the off-season. There are presently two schools of thought. One belief is that the hockey season is mentally, emotionally, and physically grueling, therefore hockey players need time off to regroup. The other extreme is that hockey is an on-going season, and to stay in shape we need to continue to compete in summer hockey. So the question is, who is right? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Personally speaking, we believe that hockey players definitely need a break from the rink. However, we also think that a break from the rink should not excuse any athlete from being physically active. A lot of hockey players get involved with other sports in the summer, such as, baseball, soccer, and lacrosse. These activities are not adequate enough to prepare the athlete for the upcoming season. It is very important that hockey players get involved in an off-season dryland-conditioning program specific to hockey.
In a series of articles featured in the Globe and Mail (April 1997), the problems and decline of the hockey infrastructure in Canada were addressed. One significant point, that was strongly emphasized, was the difference of philosophies between the European and Canadian training methods. It was stated that the European junior spends the summer in an off-ice-training program. “They use dryland training to a tremendous advantage”, said Lou Vairo, a director with USA Hockey. “I still hear guys in the NHL saying, you can’t move Igor Larionov (a 5-foot-9, 170 pound Russian player). He’s so strong on his feet”. This didn't come from just playing hockey. Europeans in childhood develop strength, balance, agility, and explosive speed from specific dryland training. When most of our athletes are taking the summer off, European athletes train for an extra four months of the year. This may be one reason why their players are dominating at the Professional and Olympic level.
Research has shown that a dryland-training program is simply the best way to improve your overall conditioning level. Individuals should view their fitness as their foundation to performance. "The one aspect of the game you have control over is your Fitness Level." (Chris Broadhurst, Toronto Maple Leafs) It does not matter how skilled of a player you are, if you are not in shape, you will not play to your maximum potential.
Before an off-season conditioning program can begin, the athlete should participate in a test to determine their physiological strengths and weaknesses. Once a player profile has been established, a sports specific conditioning program can be designed to meet the athlete’s personal needs. The main reason why athletes do not follow through with their dryland conditioning programs is because it lacks any purpose or personal structure to them. If you educate an athlete on the benefits and objectives of his/her training protocols, the commitment to the program is far more successful.
Athletes also need to establish a good flexibility, strength and cardiovascular base before engaging in “speed” or power work, which is associated with plyometric training. This base is the foundation to the athlete’s fitness level, and more importantly, it takes time to achieve. If plyometric training is implemented immediately without establishing this foundation, the risk of chronic injuries and poor performance on ice may occur. Therefore, individuals need to start their off-ice training program in May, to prepare them for sports specific exercises later in the summer. Coaches should encourage their athletes to come into hockey camp in shape, rather than using this time to get into shape. The key to a successful dryland-training program is to create one that is both sports specific and fun.

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