How to Approach Off-Season Training

Often when the season wraps up, I’ll get asked the question: “Coach, what do I need to work on in the off-season?”  I usually respond to this by reversing the question and asking them what they think they need to work on.  When they look at me with a blank stare, I usually try to guide them through a series of questions to help evaluate their play and identify “holes” in their game – and of course share my feedback with them after they’ve started to identify things for themselves.  The off-season provides a great opportunity for committed players to develop and improve their fundamental skills.  I believe players need to approach off-season training in the following sequence:

1) Players must identify the areas of their game they want to improve. This needs to be done with honest self-evaluation. Most older players know the areas they struggle with – younger players will need to be given more guidance. A list of two or three skills to improve is typically more than enough. Identifying too many areas is a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

2) Once players have their weaknesses, they should work with their coaching staff to come up with a training regiment. This doesn’t necessarily mean the coach should be giving out complete summer training programs for each player (although, this would be great), but most coaches will be more than happy to share ideas on ways to train.

3) Players need to follow through consistently on the plan.  If a player improves just a little bit every day, the results/success will compound. Repetition is the mother of skill – get out there and consistently take action!  It is OK to take days off – in fact, depending on the training, it may be better for the body to take time off.

4) Players should seek educated instruction/direction during their training for both safety and habit reasons. If someone takes 10,000 shots with terrible technique, they’re not doing a lot other than re-enforcing bad habits.  However, if he or she take 10,000 shots with some guidance, instruction, and correction – they stand a much better chance of developing their skills.

5) Identify on-ice training opportunities to evaluate how the training is working. Many areas of the game can be worked on off-ice: stickhandling, shooting, foot speed, balance, hand-eye coordination, acceleration, power, reaction time, etc.  However, it is a good thing to get players on the ice from time-to-time to see how their training is working.  This can be something as simple as open hockey or a public skate.

6) Work hard and smart.  One thing a lot of players get wrong is mistaking hard work for smart work.  Players must understand – working hard on the wrong things won’t help once the season rolls around!  Players who come in bragging about how much they improved their bench press or bicep curl have indeed wasted a lot of time and energy.

The depth players should take these guidelines depends on age and competition level. An eight year-old obviously should not be doing an intense weight program – but instead occasionally stickhandling or shooting pucks in the driveway will go a long way.  Midget players with aspirations of continuing their career, on the other hand, should be looking to be hitting a weight room and getting on the ice more frequently to hone their skills. Not sure what to work on? You can never go wrong with working on skating technique!

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