When Joe Maher is looking to motivate his University of Michigan hockey players, he says it’s about a lot more than just their next training session.
“For me, it’s looking at long-term and big picture,” the Wolverines hockey head strength and conditioning coach said. “Always having a goal, always having a direction for what it is that you’re trying to do. It’s never just, come in and it’s a Friday and I’m going to do this. It’s understanding the relationship of what you’re going to do on a Friday in June and how that’s going to translate to a Friday night game in October and understanding that it’s a process, sticking with it, being patient, having diligence, tenacity, grit and determination to go through those long training periods where hockey’s not going to be at the forefront of what you’re doing.
“You’re not going to get the immediate reward of winning a game because you’re in the weight room, but in the long-term, it’s going to pay dividends for you.”
For 14U and 16U hockey players looking to take that next step in their hockey development, the spring and summer is the optimal time for off-ice training. Where does one start, however?
“The hockey season is long,” Maher said. “It’s physical at those levels – making the jump up in physicality and things of that nature – so taking a break and making sure that dings and bruises and any kinds of injuries have healed up, as well as just letting our body in general catch up from the stress and the travel is important. Resting for a good four-week period, six-week period, somewhere in that range would be great for players in those age groups.”
Once your body is ready, it’s time to get to work.
“I think the biggest thing is that they have to have some reflection on what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Maher said. “Most kids at that age are going to need to work on strength, power and speed, and they need to develop a plan, whether that’s through the help of a professional or their own systematic thought process of how they want to attack those weaknesses.
“In general, the weight room, conditioning, on-ice and off-ice skill work are going to be paramount to their development long-term. They just need to help their bodies continue to adapt and grow as athletes, not just necessarily as hockey players but as athletes in general – doing a lot of a different types of athletic movements, maybe picking up another sport, things of that nature.”
Play other sports
Most of those who have come through the weight room at Yost Ice Arena were multi-sport athletes. Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp played quarterback for his Ann Arbor high school even while competing for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Detroit Red Wings star Dylan Larkin played soccer as long as he could.
“Playing other sports is huge,” Maher said. “If you have the ability to and the desire to play any other sport, it doesn’t even matter the competition level, it’s just huge for them, because it’s going to work different things that they don’t get in hockey, as well as the translation is going to be huge in hockey. You look at some of the players that have come through, they’ve been two- or three-sport athletes all the way through high school. Football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and then when the time was appropriate for them, as they were approaching the end of their high school career or their junior career, that’s when they started specializing more.
“For example, if you go play soccer, your aerobic foundation and your aerobic conditioning at that point are going to be huge. You’re going to see some huge gains because of that, and that’s going to transfer over to hockey. Same thing if you have a track and field athlete or a runner, your speed is going to be huge. The development you will gain in your speed will directly translate to hockey.”
Whatever your plan is this summer, Maher stresses the importance of having the right guidance by working with a professional trainer.
“Absolutely, especially if you really want to try to amp up the intensity and frequency of how much you’re doing,” Maher said. “Seeking out the right professional for you, from a personality standpoint, somebody that understands your development, understands the game, understands your fitness level from a training standpoint, it’s going to be huge not only from a safety standpoint but also your ability to reach your full potential.”
That doesn’t mean buying a training DVD from an infomercial. Your training program should have the focus of making you a better hockey player, not making you look better at the beach or on the boat.
“Any portion of your weight training or any portion of your training in general should be geared towards being a better athlete. Large compound, complex movements that are appropriate for you from an age standpoint as well as a load and intensity standpoint are going to be the best options. Learning how to squat properly, deadlift, clean, pull-ups, push-ups, things of that nature, things that are full compound movements are going to be the things that are the best options for you.”
And, potentially most importantly, according to Maher, is that it’s time to start eating better.
“I think the biggest thing with those age groups, especially the 16U age group, is that nutrition is going to start to become a factor,” Maher said. “It’s going to help you gain mass, it’s going to push you over the top. You can try as hard as you want, but if your nutritional foundation is not there, it’s not going to help you as much as you think, you’re not going to get as much out of it as you think. Start to clean up diets, stay away from fast foods, start eating more wholesome foods and more fruits and vegetables, more hydration, more water, that’s going to help to set the foundation for you.”