The Next Evolution in Movement Training
Movement training has become a buzz term utilized in the skating and skill development community in recent times; in its very essence, training a ringette or hockey player to move efficiently in order to conserve energy and optimize power and force production, all the while maintaining structural integrity through posture in the kinetic chain, is the inherent goal.
It is without question that the governing bodies of various sports have begun to appreciate and understand the importance of training foundational athleticism, and integrating movement skills into their Long Term Athlete Development models. Skills such as running, jumping, skipping, hand-eye coordination, etc., should be encouraged and developed long before youth athletes are pushed toward sport-specificity. Make no mistake – the greats, such as Wayne Gretzky, have always been strong advocates of encouraging youth hockey players to engage and participate in several other sports.
Throughout the human evolutionary process, humans have adapted to performing incredible feats of athleticism in both short-track sprinting, and long distance running. Triathletes and Ironman competitors are capable of covering exceptional distances, all the while maintaining efficiency in movement in order to conserve energy. Whether participating in aerobic system-based long distance running, or explosive and power anaerobic-based exercise such as hockey or ringette, there are distinct parallels in movement priniciples.
Fundamentally, and biomechanically, humans were not meant to skate. Dr. Andreo Spina articulated this point quite succinctly in saying that moving by pushing out to the side (abduction) is simply unnatural when moving in a saggital plane (straight-ahead, forward path). Watch today's NHL players, and their incredible speed, and one can safely say that humans have evolved and adapted to overcome this shortcoming.
There is a distinct rationale behind some of the most elite hockey strength and conditioning coaches sending their top prospects and NHL professionals to work with sprint/track and field coaches in the off-season: to optimize movement. There are many inherent commonalities between sprinting and skating technique; many of the parallels can be seen with regard to how sprint coaches teach proper posture, core stability, and efficiency in arm movement.
Research by Tellez advocates that the arm swing action is a trigger for powerful stride extension and stride turnover/frequency. In summary, his research notes that it is the coordination between the arms and the legs that produces overall efficiency, and that while the two movement actions are in coordination, it is the arms that lead the legs in tempo and range covered.
Without question, there is a unifying link in performance enhancement taking into consideration limitations in mobility and range of motion in the upper extremities, correlating down the lower extremities. Very fascinating work produced by Otsuka et al. lends to the notion that degradation in mobility of the shoulder complex can affect sprint acceleration values. When training ringette and hockey players, it is important to establish a positive precedent by training movements without pucks/rings, and even without sticks, for that matter. Fundamental movements such as linear forward and backward skating, and transitional movements such as turns, pivots, open hip glides, etc., should be taught emphasizing optimal posture, kinetic chain alignment, core engagement, proper weight distribution, etc.
After the athlete has had the opportunity to build successful motor patterning through positive and successful repetition (and bilaterally to both the left and right directions where applicable), should the stick/implement be added to the equation. One must view the hockey/ringette stick as a mere extension of the kinetic chain, and as such, it is a lever that must be controlled and integrated into fundamental skating movement patterns. Coaches should maintain a watchful eye upon their players when conducting technical skating drills, and observe the stick position, and whether it is a contribution, or hindrance, to the athlete's movement technique.
Finally, one of the last evolutions for skill progression calls for the integration of the puck or ring into the drill at hand. An amazing aspect to stop, consider, and appreciate: teaching an athlete to a) control their own body with optimal posture and control at top-end skating velocity, b) add an implement/lever (stick) to control and integrate into skating movement, c) handle/control an external variable such a puck or ring with a high degree of finesse and skill at top-end speed, and d) control all of the aforementioned in an environment of controlled chaos (a great term coined by one of our mentors, Peter Twist). One can see how developing mastery of each skill set at a progressive pace will ensure future success for youth athletes by instilling confidence in their abilities for years and years to come.