I have read a lot of articles from many sectors of the hockey community about what players should be doing in the summer. They all seem to have one theme – don’t play hockey. And they will all point to the fact that Wayne Gretzky played baseball all summer and never touched his hockey equipment.
This is an increasingly difficult thing to do. Most elite players (AAA boys, AA girls) will feel compelled to play some sort of spring or summer hockey because "everyone else is doing it" and there is a fear of falling behind their peers with respect to level of play. And note, Wayne Gretzky’s peers weren’t playing summer hockey either – there wasn’t any. They were all playing other sports too.
So here is what hockey players should be doing over the summer:
1) Don’t Play Hockey. OK, so my first do is a don’t. But this doesn’t mean don’t go on the ice, just don’t play games. Players need to have some time away from the pressure of performing on the ice. They need time for their brains to "heal" from all the hockey they have been absorbing for the past eight to nine months. It’s like letting your body recuperate from a workout so muscles can rebuild and heal. Well, it’s also important to let your brain rebuild and have a break from hockey. Doing some on ice skills and skating sessions can be a good thing but playing more games does not help to make a better player.
2) Play another sport. There are so many transferable skills for hockey players playing other sports and it doesn’t matter which sport, it will help to become a better hockey player. Baseball, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, doesn’t matter. Hockey players should get out and play something different, there will be things they learn that will undoubtedly help their hockey careers.
3) Work on foot speed. There is a direct correlation between how fast an athlete can run and how fast they can skate. Players should find ways to become faster runners. There are lots of methods to be found on the internet but I tell players they should do the same training as a 400 metre sprinter does. The 400 metres is just longer than an average hockey shift length and it is an all-out sprint. Directly relatable to hockey. This might be the most valuable thing players can do in the off season. Speed is everything in every sport.
4) Build core strength. Again, there are lots of resources to help players find ways to build core strength but after speed, core strength (strength through the trunk of your body) is paramount and will undoubtedly make athletes better at everything they do on the ice.
5) Work on shooting and stick handling. Players don’t have to be on the ice for this. Take the 5000 shot challenge in your garage (100 shots, 5 times per week, 10 weeks). Stickhandle different size and weight balls through an obstacle course in the driveway or at the school yard. Strengthen wrists and arms and at the same time try to get eyes off the puck/ball and keep the head up.
6) Go play on the "monkey bars". Players just need to keep active and challenge themselves to try new skills. The monkey bars as not only a metaphor, skateboarding, creating an obstacle course to go through, gymnastics classes, learning yoga – players can and will become better athletes.
In summary, hockey equipment should be put away for an extended period in the summer, It will do the world of good. Keeping active, working on speed and core strength and having some fun is the right thing to do.