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Overspeed: Kicking skill development into high gear

09/21/2016, 3:00pm MDT
By Michael Caples - Special to USAHockey.com

Hockey players, by trade, must perform skills at a variety of different speeds, but being able to execute skills at top speed, or game speed, is essential to success at higher levels.

Enter overspeed training: making sure players are moving at top speed when working on skills such as stickhandling, passing and shooting.    

“Overspeed training, on ice, is really just about learning how to perform skills at top speed,” said Kevin Neeld, director of performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in New Jersey. “On the ice, you can design drills where you have people build up speed intentionally by ramping around the neutral zone or circling around the net and building up speed, approaching the neutral zone and then having them go through some skill components that have been developed under slower speeds and more controlled situations prior to that.      

“From an off-ice perspective, overspeed training is a little bit different than top-speed training, in that overspeed training is traditionally done by using either downhill running or bands that facilitate you having to recover your stride length faster because you’re literally running faster than you would be able to do on your own.”

Skill development across different speeds

Neeld, the strength and conditioning coach for USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team, said that overspeed training off the ice is more geared toward runners and other dryland sports. Overspeed training, in a hockey sense, should primarily be focused toward on-ice exercises. 

“I think the important thing is that players should be able to express their skills across different speeds,” Neeld said. “You don’t want a player who has outstanding hands and vision, but only when their feet are standing still, or if they’re gliding and moving at half-speed. Hockey is such a unique sport in that it requires people to execute skills in a bunch of different body positions in a bunch of different tactical situations and then really, most relevant to what we’re discussing, at a bunch of different speeds.

“If players aren’t accustomed, if they don’t practice having to scan the ice to find open players and open spaces at full speed, they’re not going to be as good at that as they would be if they had made it a training focus.”

Stretching out of their comfort zone

By bringing a player to top speed before beginning a skill drill, the player is pushed out of his or her comfort zone, which will help with their development.

“I always say that I think the best hockey players see the game slow,” Neeld said. “They’re able to see the play develop and execute plays even if they’re moving very quickly; they can see things happen. Overspeed training is an opportunity to speed the game up and pull them out of their comfort zone so that when it comes game-time, things actually appear to be moving a little slower than how they’ve trained.”

Overspeed will lead to failure – and that’s OK

When kids start incorporating overspeed training into their practices, errors will occur – and that’s OK.

“I would say get comfortable making mistakes, because there is such an emphasis on the outcome that some of the process might be lost,” Neeld said. “If you slow your body speed movement down to make sure, to borderline guarantee that you connect on the pass or you’re able to get the shot off that you want, then you’re missing the opportunity to make a mistake and develop from it in the future. If you never make those mistakes at high speed, if you always slow down to accommodate your current comfort zone, then you’re never going to develop those skill sets at high speeds. It’s important to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

That same mindset applies to coaches, as well – Neeld wants to see coaches let players learn from their mistakes on their own during overspeed training sessions.

“To not over-coach the process is a message I would give to coaches,” Neeld said. “It’s easy to micro-manage and to put the players in positions that guarantees they will be successful. I think sometimes that’s helpful, but we all learn from our mistakes. In this case, getting some repetitions in and letting kids figure it out without over-instructing the process will allow them to learn skills in a way that will be longer-lasting than just executing them the way the coach is telling them to on any given day.”

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