The concept of a “window of trainability” might sound dramatic or advanced, but at the end of the day, the idea from USA Hockey’s American Development Model comes down to common sense.
It means, essentially, optimizing training methods to match ages and development windows of young hockey players. In sports, as in other aspects of development, there are stages. You don’t teach a child to read by handing him or her a copy of “War and Peace.” Hockey works the same way.
Scott Paluch, a regional manager for the ADM since 2009, helps explain one of the most important windows of trainability concept: the two times for maximizing speed training, and the differences in both.
Let’s get quick, and quickly
The first speed-training window falls roughly between the ages of 6 and 9 for boys and girls. It’s a time in a child’s development when they are especially receptive to a specific kind of speed training and can make dramatic gains that last a lifetime.
“This first window is all about quickness. Short bursts, multi-directional speed. Taking advantage of players and athletes moving quickly in all directions,” said Paluch. “What needs to be done is the same thing with running and sprinting and chasing. It’s focusing on a young child’s ability to accelerate and change directions.”
The idea is to do this work across short bursts of activity to reflect the physiology of the age group.
“What’s also happening along with that is you have suppleness and mobility as wide open windows. You’re combining both of those elements,” Paluch said. “They’re moving quickly, but their bodies aren’t designed yet for long distance. You’re aiming for quickness and multi-directional movement and in all athletic phases, getting agility, balance and coordination work.”
First window, second window
The second window of speed training comes during the growth spurt ages – roughly 11-13 for girls and 13-16 for boys. In that window, you’re building upon the foundation laid during the first window.
“When you have that base of quickness, balance, coordination and agility, and you’re comfortable in that, when your body gets older and more mature, you’ll see the long-term speed in the second window will fall right along with the growth spurt,” Paluch said. “What’s happening then is you’re learning how to complete your movement and maintaining a higher level of speed. How your muscles move is changing, and they’re quicker over a longer distance.”
Creating speed in drills
So what does this look like on the ice? To create those short bursts in the first window of trainability, shrinking the ice surface is key.
“The biggest piece and the No. 1 priority of shrinking the ice surface not just in competition but in training in the station-based work is to create that short burst multi-directional environment. When you’re in that environment, no matter what you’re working on, you’re working on speed,” Paluch said. “Any time you’re in a game situation on one-sixth of the ice, you’re still in the same mode.”
Speed work is best achieved in drills that combine elements of fun and competition.
“We’re taking advantage of a child’s cognitive development level – when they’re chasing each other or something else is where you’ll see a young athlete operate at their peak quickness,” Paluch said. “If you’re chasing me and I’m 8 years old, I’m not thinking about it. I’m moving. If I’m chasing a puck, I’m not thinking about exactly what’s going to get me there; I’m just thinking that I’m going to get there before you. It’s a wonderful way to get young athletes to get faster – playing tag, chase games, race games.”
In dryland drills at that age, the concept is the same. To that end, 8U players shouldn’t be covering 100 or 200 yards in a drill, but rather, they should be focused on short bursts like chasing a tennis ball.
“They’ll work extremely hard for a long amount of time just because it’s fun,” Paluch said.
Because development during the first window of speed training is optimized by shrinking the ice surface, continued communication is important.
Interestingly enough, hockey might be benefiting from other sports following USA Hockey’s lead and moving to smaller surfaces.
“The biggest thing we’re seeing now is that it’s not just hockey, baseball, tennis and soccer that have smaller playing surfaces for kids. Now football and lacrosse are embracing those principles, too,” Paluch added. “As a result, more people are gaining an understanding of the windows of trainability, and that’s good for young athletes nationwide.”