A strength coach that I have had a ton of respect for throughout my entire career as a professional trainer has been a man named Dan John.
The hockey community is unlikely to be familiar with a lot of his work because he doesn’t speak or program directly for hockey players, but the wisdom that he has from spending so many decades in the trenches as a coach provides valuable lessons for anybody involved in athletic performance.
He once said;
The moment I read that it resonated so much with me because that’s exactly how I feel as it relates to designing effective strength training programs for optimal hockey performance.
What he is essentially saying is that you first need to learn how to move, then once you have that down you can increase your volume of sets and reps to continue to get a better result.
Then, once you have learned how to move well and are able to repeat this process many times over without any breaks in movement quality, you may add a load in order to make it more difficult.
For example, a lot of hockey players go to the gym and try to perform BB back squats or DB lunges, yet if you asked them to do this even without any weight at all their technique is terrible.
Caving forward during the squat…
Not enough mobility to go below parallel…
Losing balance often during a lunge step…
You can’t do this.
You should only ever increase intensity (amount of resistance being applied to you in a given movement) once you have mastered the movement first and are able to repeat it without any slip-ups.
A quote of my own that I have used with many hockey athletes so they “get it” is:
If you can’t do it, don’t load it.
That simple line typically gets hockey athletes to understand that they need to put their ego aside and learn how to move first before they add load to the movement.
This is critical because if you add load to a poor movement pattern then you are only strengthening a poor movement pattern that won’t get you any of the results you desire and will also put you at a much greater risk for injury.
This is where hockey coordination training comes into play.
Now, the term “coordination” by itself is an incredibly loaded, difficult term to explain from a sports science perspective.
For this reason, it’s also something that’s very difficult to train as well.
But, one thing I can tell you right away (before we get into the nitty-gritty of this) is that much of what you see that is deemed “functional training” is a ridiculous circus act that has no basis in real sports science.
Functional training for hockey is programming that trains the body consistent with its structural design and hockey-specific biomechanical requirements.
Just because a movement is hard to do does not make it functional.
Just because it requires high skill or coordination does not make it functional.
Function for hockey is about transferring high forces through the kinetic chain in a way that you can correlate to improvement in on-ice performance.
Most of the circus movements you see being performed on instability equipment does NOT allow the transfer of high forces (whether it be load or speed) through the kinetic chain (see here for a complete review of this methodology and why I don’t recommend it for hockey players).
With that said, my aim with today’s article is to move the hockey industry forward with its understanding of what truly drives hockey performance enhancement.
What Is Hockey Coordination?
As previously stated above, the term coordination is a tough one to nail down because it encompasses so many things at once.
If we look at the dictionary definition, it will tell us:
“Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.”
Although I agree with the definition above, it’s more complicated than that.
Coordination is broken down into four main categories.
- Spatial Orientation
- Speed of Reaction
- Kinesthetic Differentiation
It’s funny, coordination is one of those things that’s hard to explain but really easy to see.
You know when someone is coordinated and when they’re not, yet, you don’t really know how to improve it and in most cases think you’re “stuck” with the coordination you have been given naturally.
The above four categories have plenty of carryover from one another, but, this doesn’t stop them from having specific drills that only work on a single component of coordination.
For example, if you fall short in the reaction time category you could do reaction time drills in order to enhance that specific endpoint.
The same goes for every other category up there, and the variety is endless.
For adults, you can use exercises. For teenagers, you can use drills. And for youth athletes, you can use games.
Your creativity is the only thing holding you back here.
Let’s talk about how to train each one and provide you with some exercise examples so you can start becoming a better hockey player today.
Stability is the quality, state, or degree of being stable, as in the following:
- The strength to stand or endure (e.g. Rigidness)
- The property of a body that causes it when being acted upon by other forces to develop its own forces to restore the original condition (e.g. Staying strong on the puck)
- The ability to resist forces tending to cause motion or change of motion (e.g. being able to come to a clean stop and not have your momentum continue to move you forward on the ice)
- The ability to develop forces that restore the original condition as soon as possible with taken away from the original condition (be able to return to a strong base of support on the ice and/or ground after being pushed or body checked)
Essentially, stability is the control of unwanted motion to restore or maintain a position out on the ice.
This keeps you “coordinated” because nothing is going to knock you off balance (whether it be your own caused momentum or others trying to bodycheck you/knock you off the puck).
Stability could technically be broken down further into static and dynamic versions of itself.
For example, static would refer to the ability to maintain equilibrium while the body is stationary, whereas dynamic would refer to the ability of the body to maintain and control posture during athletic movements (e.g. skating and stickhandling).
Stability is all about total body foundational strength.
My favorite stability exercises are listed below:
BB Front Squat
Wide Pronated Grip Pull-Ups
BB Conventional Deadlift
DB Alternating Neutral Grip Overhead Press
DB Farmers Walk
#2: Spatial Orientation
This is often referred to as “kinesthetic perception” or “proprioception” depending on who you’re talking to.
Put simply, it’s a loaded term that represents both memory and awareness of movement. It represents the ability to sense where your body (or body parts) is/are in space.
This is the type of stuff you will most often see to help market coordination training, although it’s only one piece of the pie.
Here are some of my favorite spatial orientation drills:
Spatial Orientation Drills
180-Degree Squat Jumps
Reverse Bear Crawls
#3: Speed Of Reaction
Your reaction time is something I’ll have to do a full article on in the future as I think a lot of hockey players are extremely interested in improving their reaction time and want to know how to train it properly.
Put simply, reaction time represents your ability to quickly respond with athletic movement to a particular stimulus such as sight, sound, or touch (or to put it another way, it impacts everything you do out on the ice).
Before I get into my favorite drills for reaction time, I want to first state that the best “drill” you could ever do is play the game.
Get on the ice more often and play some scrimmages with your teammates, and if you can, do it on a small rink so you’re forced to constantly react under pressure.
When you want to do it on your own time with dryland drills, here’s what I recommend:
Reaction Time Drills
Reactive Ball Drop
Reaction Ball Wall Catches
Mirror Lateral Shuffle Drill
Mirror Forward Sprinting Drill
Get Up Sprint With Partner Chase
Lateral Shuffle With Reactive Catches
Partner Call Out T-Test Runs
#4: Kinesthetic Differentiation
Kinesthetic differentiation represents the idea that your body needs to be able to apply the correct amount of tension and force in a specific movement to achieve the desired result.
Sometimes our automatic motor pattern is to use as much force as we used when we first learned a technique, but at times that may be at the cost of performance because force requirements will vary depending on multiple factors.
For example, sometimes you see unathletic kids shoot the ball at the basketball net and it absolutely hammers the backboard and flys far away.
Why did he/she shoot it so hard when they were that close?
A lack of kinesthetic differentiation is why.
It’s the same thing for those of you who putt way too hard on the green at golf courses.
The dramatically alters coordination because the force profile of a movement could be dramatically different depending upon where you are on the ice and what you’re doing.
Here are some great ways to build more kinesthetic differentiation in your life:
Kinesthetic Differentiation Exercises
Medicine Ball Throw Variations At Different Angles, Targets, Distances, And Ball Weights
Pyramid Lateral Sprint
Forward Weight Sled Pull Into Sprint
Hockey Coordination Podcast
Want to learn more about Hockey Coordination Training? Check out this podcast episode:
Final Thoughts On Coordination Training
To wrap today’s article up, I would say that there is a lot more to hockey training than most coaches recognize.
It’s not just about “exercising”, it’s about having a highly comprehensive and targeted plan to engineer better hockey athletes.
Coordination is one piece of the hockey performance puzzle, and if you enjoyed today’s article and are looking to complete the entire puzzle of hockey performance and be given a plan that you can guarantee will drive up your performance then you have to check out the Hockey Skills Accelerator.
The Skills Accelerator Membership will give you access to every single hockey training program we offer at HockeyTraining.com (along with many other perks) that will ensure you are working on your coordination training to become the best hockey player you can be!
You can sign up for the Skills Accelerator Membership here.
Also be sure to check out our NEW In-Season Training Programs, that will help you dominate your current hockey season. These programs incorporate coordination training (along with much more – speed, conditioning, mobility, etc). You can learn more about in-season programs here.