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Deflections: “…Gotta cut loose, footloose…”


In defiance of my own view that spring hockey isn’t useful, here I am on the ice these days. The group is the draft picks and protects for a junior A club, all 15 to 18 years old. The owner asked me to put them through a few practices as prep for their development league exhibition games.

I don’t much care about the games. Meaningless games are, well, meaningless. But for the practices, I took a best guess and identified foot speed, agility, and passing skills as cores to what the team wants. Turns out I was right. And because the boys use these practices to work on skills, it’s actually a decent avenue for these elite athletes.

I included in each practice about eight to 10 minutes of overspeed training. This is a program more or less created by Jack Blatherwick in the U.S. He set out clearly defined goals and a methodology to ensure both the technical components and physiological considerations were prominent.

The stuff works. I’ve used it often. It essentially makes (or asks) players do a simple skating exercise faster than they’ve felt possible, in other words, over speed. Each rep takes no more than about 10 seconds and they get nearly a minute between reps for recovery. Indeed, conditioning is important because players not in good shape will struggle mightily, never mind with the speed expectations.

The exercises include a lot of agility, change of direction, and transition skating. It’s not really a teaching environment per se because I’m not there to be their skating instructor. That would be for another time and environment. I’m to ensure they adhere to the main tenet of overspeed training and get their feet moving.

In the first practice, they did five reps apiece of short and simple turn exercise. A few fell on the turns because they really were trying to go beyond their limits. But I stopped them at five because I sensed a bit of a slowdown by the fifth rep. In the next practice, using a slightly longer skating route, they got to six reps. By the fifth, some of the boys were kneeling or bent over. I pushed them to do a sixth to see if they could manage it. They did, though barely.

In the room after, I asked, as I usually do, what they thought of the practice. They liked this one better, they said, especially the overspeed. Why? They said they felt their foot speed improving more this time than before. I didn’t add that, yes, mostly because they’re in better shape and more familiar with the nature of overspeed training.

Next up is to try these with pucks. And with that will come the mental discipline to stop and get a puck they’ve lost.

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