Strength & Conditioning for Young Players
Tom Archer is EVO Hockey's Strength & Conditioning specialist. He has worked extensively with senior and junior performance athletes, including international hockey and tennis players. Here, he blogs for EVO about the benefits S&C training for aspiring hockey players and explains how it is incorporated into the EVO Hockey coaching programmes. Tom is on Instagram as @itstasc1
THE BENEFITS OF Strength and Conditioning FOR YOUNG PLAYERS
Strength and Conditioning ('S&C') training, when applied correctly with young players, can lead to significant advantages in their athletic development, enhance performance capabilities and reduce the risks of sport-related injury.
S&C's benefits for athletic development include helping to increase agility, co-ordination and proprioception. At younger ages, carefully applied S&C principles provide excellent foundations for a player's athletic movement, which can then be of benefit for all sports and physical activities. With older age groups, S&C work can be refined to help a player's performance within their sporting activities of choice.
"I want to run faster with the hockey ball...I want to change direction quicker... I want to accelerate away from players better"
"I want to throw an aerial longer, I want to drag flick faster, I want to improve my reflexes as a goalkeeper"
All of the above are examples of development areas we hear from young players all the time at EVO. While undoubtedly a huge part of mastering these involve 'stick on ball' technical development, the biomechanical aspects are often overlooked. Understanding, mastering and developing the muscle movements associated with these areas, so that you gain maximal efficiency, can bring huge benefits for players and can be the essential difference for young players aspiring to develop their potential.
STRENGTH & CONDITIONING IN THE EVO HOCKEY PROGRAM
EVO Hockey has developed a unique program incorporating hockey performance focused S&C into our training camps, as well as offering specialist 1-1 & small group S&C sessions. Here, we will explain the potential benefits to young players with the help of the Long Term Athlete Development model.
Strength and Conditioning starts with the youngest athletes in the EVO program with simple games – this stage is referred to as "FUNdamentals". At this FUNdametal stage we try to introduce athletes to basic agility, footwork and balance exercises – all while maintaining fun and game orientated training. The purpose of this is to start to develop an awareness in young players of their body movements, co-ordination and biomechanics, all through fun play. This is the Foundation work to the Long Term Athlete Development. The age of these young players is typically girls and boys of 6-8 or 9 years old.
The next step in Athlete development is "Learning to Train". This is the period of accelerated learning of co-ordination and fine motor skills. The Strength and Conditioning at this stage begins to become more specific to the game of hockey, with the young athletes starting to feel more comfortable and confident with agilty and reaction drills - and to begin transferring this into matches. The age of these players is girls and boys of 8 or 9-12 years old.
The following stage of development is referred to as "Training to Train". This focuses on developing sports specific skills such as speed, strength and stamina. During this training block athletes will grow and it becomes particularly important to maintain mobility and flexibility to avoid injury. Training should still remain fun but we should now understand why we train and the importance of additional drills – for example single leg exercises which help improve leg strength and balance. This stage is typically for girls of 11-15 and boys of 12-16 years old.
The final stage we focus on at EVO is – Learn to Compete. This is the time for athletes to refine technical skills to help their game play. Its also when we like our athletes to start to take control of their own training. For example, we encourage them to start thinking “how can strength and conditioning help me push the ball harder”, “ what mobility drills will help me with drag flicking” and so on. Athletes at this stage with ambitions to play at a top level should have a program in place to help structure all aspects of their training on and off the pitch.
If you have any questions as a parent or as an athlete about S&C, or if you are interested in sessions or program development, please get in touch. We are here to help and happy to answer question you may have.