COLORADO SPRINGS – The coaches in attendance at the inaugural High Performance Symposium here this week are among the best and brightest when it comes to the X’s and O’s of the game. But when it comes to issues like sleep, nutrition, sports psychology and strength training, many are admittedly in the dark.
So to give them a little more help, USA Hockey enlisted the services of those who work with the country’s top athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, to shed a little light on the subjects on the second day of the four-day event.
After several morning sessions that focused on how other sports and other countries train elite athletes, the afternoon shifted to breakout sessions that focused on strength and conditioning, proper nutrition and sports psychology.
“Whenever I come to these things I find that I’m very invigorated because I’m constantly generating ideas and writing stuff down,” said Lyle Phair, who coaches in the Honeybaked program in Michigan.
“There are so many different things that have an effect on the game now. Just look at the mental side of it. Getting an understanding of kids and how they think and why they think the way they do. It’s hard for coaches who have played the game who just did it, so why can’t my players just do it.”
Darryl Nelson, who has been with the NTDP for the past 15 years, still finds himself amazed by how many youth hockey players lag behind when it comes to proper fitness and nutrition. And he’s working with many of the top young players in the country.
“I’ve seen kids who eat two bowls of Frosted Flakes for breakfast and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch,” said Nelson.
“My advice to both kids and their parents is that if you want to be a world-class athlete, you shouldn’t eat foods with cartoon characters on the box.”
To further the push toward proper nutrition, registered dietician Dave Ellis stressed the importance of hydration and eating the right foods, especially right after a practice or game. Even though some of these youngsters may be elite athletes, they are still kids, and parents and coaches may need to come up with creative ways to get them to eat right.
“I can get more good things that kids may not want to eat down their throats with a good smoothie,” said Ellis before directing the coaches on how to make their own fruit smoothies in the USOC’s test kitchen.
The third breakout session featured USOC sports psychologist Peter Haberl, who stressed the importance of developing a positive mental outlook among players.
“When kids start playing they have a love of the game,” said Haberl, a father of two hockey players who also worked with the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team.
“As they move forward that love can sometimes get coached out of them because of an over emphasis on winning, or making a certain team or playing on a first line. It’s your job as a coach to foster that passion for the game and to protect it.”
It was all part of a full day at the Olympic Training Center that kicked off with presenters from USA Volleyball and FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, before Lars Marklund and Hans Wallson talked about developing players with the Skelleftea Hockey Club, one of the most successful clubs in Sweden.
“It’s amazing to be exposed to different cultures and to hear from people who are playing the same game but are doing it differently,” Phair said. “Now it’s up to all of use to figure out how can we can take all this information and make it work with what we’re doing.”