For 14U/16U players, it’s time to ramp up their training schedule rather than their game schedule. At this age, players need a heavier dose of on- and off-ice training to go along with their game schedule.
“It happens a little too much in our country, you have a lot of kids playing a lot of hockey and they’re not doing development training,” Merrimack associate coach Bill Gilligan said. “One of the great advantages of the NTDP and college hockey is they realize how important physical development is and we take our time to continually develop our players. Some players in junior programs are playing so much hockey. They don’t have the time to do the skill development on the ice and they don’t have the time to do the physical development off the ice – especially in the summer months.”
As a player matures physically, it becomes time to “build the engine” for future success. Investing in strength and stamina at this age will pay long-term dividends as players get more serious about hockey.
“Because the sport has become filled with guys who are strong, athletic and extremely fast, the younger a player can develop his body with off-ice activities and get more muscle mass and strength, the more it’s going to help him compete,” Gilligan said. “But it’s also going to help him prevent injury, which often comes with big bodies running into each other at high speeds.”
As the sport has evolved, the off-ice training element has become equally important – whether it’s at the college level or beyond. Even the most physically gifted athletes have an off-ice regimen to excel at the highest level.
Often, as players climb the hockey ladder, it’s intrinsic motivation – performing an action because they enjoy it, not because they are trying to earn a reward – that will get a player to the next rung.
“We all know kids love to play hockey, but they have to learn to like, or at least appreciate, the off-ice component to a level where they’re getting what they need,” Gilligan said. “There have been studies, when people are doing certain activities and trying to develop, the best learning time is the individual learning time and not necessarily the group learning time. People who are going out and training, whether it’s off-ice strength training or skill development like shooting pucks, a lot of times that’s the most important time for them to develop.”
Focus on Quality
However, at an age when players are first beginning to engage in off-ice strength training, proper technique must be the emphasis to provide maximum benefits and minimize potential risks.
“When you start weight training, especially when it’s with weights and lifts that might go above your head, you need the proper instruction and proper technique because a lot of harm can be done. It’s also true with plyometrics,” Gilligan said. “You have to be careful with off-ice training with overworking or doing the wrong thing. It’s important for players to learn to be independent, but not try to do it all by themselves.”
Success Isn’t Instant
A player’s want and compete level can be helped along the way, but overall, the desire to improve and fulfill potential must come from within. Rarely does a coach have to prod a great player, or one who aims to be better, to work hard or put in extra effort.
For 14U/16U, success isn’t instant. It’s important to stay patient, continue to focus on development and allow for the process to play itself out, rather than trying to rush things or aim for instant gratification.
“Look long term and develop all parts of your body, your mind and your game,” Gilligan advised. “Some players can get really advanced skill-wise or really blessed with speed or have great hockey sense, so they can live with that for a while. They might not have the proper mentality to train hard because they were so good at a young age. But as you go up at every level, to go up that step or that ladder, they can sometimes end up faltering because they haven’t worked enough to build their entire development as a player and an athlete.
“It all adds up to make that person a player or not.”