A major function of the coach is to ensure that his players follow a continuing line of improvement, to the best of his ability. The most critical element of any training program is that the training must be progressive. A coach should encourage (if not demand) that his players practice at an intensity level that challenges them mentally, emotionally, and physically. The limits of their ‘comfort zone’ need to be constantly pushed in order to adhere to the principle of progression, and also to create a culture of mental toughness. Over-speed training involves meeting and exceeding the demands of game and normal practice conditions.
There are many noted sports training professionals who have proved that quickness, balance and agility, and mobility and stability can be developed in a none game-condition setting. In the case of hockey, this would mean off-ice. Once these qualities are instilled in an athlete, the transfer to game skills is relatively easy because the movements are developed neurologically as well as muscularly, and so the overall athleticism of the player will surface. On-ice over-speed training should be an integral part of every teams training program, and should complement other aspects of the overall training objectives.
There are some key points to consider for the coach. Care must be taken to plan the activity to maximize the benefits. Speed training can be done at all levels of development. It is believed that younger athletes gain the most from speed training, but players right up to pros use it. Choose a skill that is going to be easy to ensure a greater measure of success – make sure you have achieved an acceptable level of technical proficiency. Use smaller areas to control the activity. This is very important! Try for at least a 1 to 2 work to rest ratio or you will reduce the volume of training before fatigue. Stop the drill if you see a measurable degree of failure with respect to technique. Practicing something incorrectly will only make you better at being incorrect.
If you adhere to these principles and get your players to perform set skills at speeds and repetitions that are at their absolute maximum, you will see many benefits. Players must learn what it feels like to play at the absolute top of their endurance threshold, and the speed and quickness they develop will have a direct impact on virtually everything they do on the ice. A short few minutes of an over-speed drill near the beginning/middle of your practice will ensure that your players are sufficiently warmed up and it will add some energy into the session that will carry to the end. It will also provide some fun for the players. It can also be done for a short time at the end to add a conditioning element.
Recovery of the players energy systems is a major factor in endurance. Speed training gives the coach an opportunity to suggest and develop recovery techniques such as relaxation, breathing, stretching, etc. between reps. These will have many benefits when playing games as the player increases his speed of recovery – especially late in games or for players that get extra ice time.
Another way to induce over-speed activity is through competition. Races between players and head-to-head competition are an excellent way to increase a player’s quickness. Players can also compete against time. Activities such as shooting X number of pucks in short spaces of time force the player to perform quickly. The ultimate goal in all speed training is to develop more speed than your opponent will be able to challenge.
Something that has worked for me in the past for goaltenders and shooters is to have a group of maybe 4 or 5 shooters with around 6 pucks each in the slot. The goaltender is on his knees behind the net. Now the players can shoot as hard and as quickly as they can, and the goaltender can try to get in front of as many pucks as possible without injury. If you use your imagination, you can come up with a multitude of over-speed activities to suit the developmental needs of your team.
Competitive over-speed drills where players must adjust and adapt to exaggerated or ‘unrealistic’ situations are perhaps the best of all. By that I mean trying to check in a close proximity, quick developing two on one situation when both players have a puck, or bringing a second or third wave attack with little or no time for recovery, and those sorts of things. Whatever drills you use, over-speed training will most definitely help your players improve.