8 Great Ideas for Off-Ice Hockey Workouts
For many coaches, running off-ice workouts can be pretty daunting - particularly when most teams won’t have a dedicated “strength and conditioning” coach to prepare and run these “practices”. Most of the stress often stems from the name we give to our “strength and conditioning” coach in that we feel that unless we are running 10 miles and bench pressing 50 reps we are not fulfilling what we need to do in order to get the most out of our off-ice workouts. So here is a little food for thought that might give you some new perspective on team workouts with no ice.
Why don’t we have some fun and think a little outside the box as to what we might call our “strength and conditioning” coach that will make our off-ice workouts less stressful? What if that coach was called the “core and agility” coach? How about the “quick feet and fast hands” coach? Try the “having fun with no ice” coach? The “multisport” coach? Or, what about this one, “the beach volleyball” coach?
Where am I going with this? Off-ice workouts are not all about developing aerobic and physical strength. What we should be developing is overall athletic ability in our hockey players - not just in season but out of season as well.
Here is a great example of how playing another sport can improve hockey performance. In baseball, to field a ground ball and then throw to first base takes many smaller micro-skills. One of the more advanced parts of the skill is to get proper body position in order to get the throw off as quickly as possible after catching the ball. This skill requires micro-skills including footwork, body position, moving to the ball, and the transfer of catch skill to throw skill - all happening in a fraction of a second. This entire sequence of micro-skills is very similar to taking a pass in the slot and getting a shot off. That skill requires footwork, body position, moving to the puck, and the transfer of taking a pass skill to shooting skill. So, there are skill transfers from one sport to another that aren’t immediately apparent but can make your athletes better athletes, and ultimately better hockey players.
So what does your off-ice training sessions look like? There are so many things that can be accomplished off the ice. Here are a few ideas to keep your athletes engaged and improving their athletic base at the same time:
1) Always incorporate some fun into your off-ice workouts. I don’t think athletes truly enjoy running and lifting weights. Do some speed work on a track then play ultimate Frisbee for the last half hour of the workout.
2) Athletes love competing - whether it is against teammates or against themselves. For the most part, we loved the Canada Fitness Awards when I was in primary school (I know this dates me). Trying to win and Award of Excellence was wonderfully competitive. Set up a fitness testing routine that you can create an awards system for, with top awards for individual improvement rather than only achievment.
3) Just go play pick-up basketball (or any sport). Choose teams and let them play.
4) Bring in different coaches to teach and work on their specialty. It might be a local track and field coach who comes in to work on sprinting and speed. It might be a yoga instructor who comes in to run a yoga session with your players. It might be a local martial arts instructor who comes in to teach basic judo. Or heck, take the team to the local axe throwing facility and have them take a lesson and then compete at hitting the target. Want your players to be better athletes? Let them figure out how to physically throw an axe and make it stick into the wall. There are so many micro adjustments to the mechanics of throwing that each athlete will not only consciously have to work through those mechanics but subconsciously will have to “feel’ through the mechanics as well. Not to mention the concentration it takes to focus on hitting a target.
5) Ask the local soccer team (older/competitive) to run your team through a soccer practice and scrimmage. Split the teams up and play.
6) Sign your team up as a group in a summer recreational beach volleyball league (maybe have two teams if you have a big roster). They will improve leg strength, athletic skills, hand-eye coordination, aerobic strength. AND, it is a great team building exercise as well. If a league doesn’t fit your schedule, sign up for a recreational tournament instead.
7) Have your team run a local 10K race. If you haven’t done so they are terrific experiences and, with a 10K looming on the horizon, your players may feel more “obligated” to work on their aerobic capacity on their own.
8) Play ball hockey! (Think puck control!)
I would guess there will be a little push back from some observers who want to see lifting weights and “sprinting until they puke” type workouts. My suggestion is to encourage those observers (read parents) to drop athletes off and take the time to run some errands, go shopping or drive to the beach and read a book. But, to make sure everyone is on the same page, effective communication with the entire team community is crucial, as always, to buy in to any “outside of the box” ideas.
Make your off-ice team time meaningful and make sure you are developing the whole athlete not just the hockey player.
(Note: I saw a great documentary on the Soviet Union hockey teams from the 50’s through to the 90’s on Netflix called Red Army. It features some footage of legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov early in the film and shows his willingness to think “outside of the box” when it came to developing his athletes. At one point he has his players doing ballet exercises to improve their athletic ability.)