What? In terms of athletic development, speed and quickness can only be developed once all of the required pieces of the puzzle are in place. Yes, some youth athletes are quicker or faster than others, and some kids are just more athletically inclined than others, but it is important to understand that there is a “window” of time when particular athletic traits can be attained.
The easiest way to understand this is to use strength training as an example. I think most people understand that putting a 6-year old in the weight room is absurdly inappropriate. Partly because a 6-year old does not have the mental capacity to properly engage in strength training, but also, I think most people have a common sense gut feeling that strength training will not produce the desired effects in a 6-year old. Why is this? The answer is simple human physiology. A 6-year old’s brain, muscle tissue, bones, hormones, etc. are not ready for the physical and chemical changes that need to occur to build strength and muscle mass. There is an optimal window of time for these changes to occur.
Yet every few weeks, I have a parent asking me if the skating treadmill (or other skating related training) will make their 8-year old or 10-year old faster. The answer is yes, and NO! The answer is yes, because skating training will help develop the correct form and technique piece of the puzzle necessary for speed development. But the answer is NO because the optimal window of time for speed development is age 15-25 years. Really.
What are the pieces of the puzzle necessary for speed development? Speed is a function of power, and in terms of human movement, power comes from one’s ability to apply force into the ground. So, the 3 foundational pieces necessary for speed development are:
1) Muscular Strength
2) Correct Form/Technique
3) Physical Maturity
To determine if your son or daughter is ready for speed development, simply ask yourself if they possess all 3 of the above criteria. If they are missing any one of these 3 things, speed training is going to be completely ineffective, or slow at best, and most likely a complete waste of time and money. Muscular strength and physical maturity are closely tied and do not occur at any one given age. Some athletes reach and begin puberty at age 11 or 12, while others may not do so until 15 or 16. The only variable which can be addressed AT VERY YOUNG AGES is correct form and technique.
As an example of this, one only needs to think of sports like gymnastics or figure skating. In these sports, correct form and technique is the foundation for success. Children as young as 5 and 6 years old are trained to perform incredibly complex movements involving balance and multi-planar rotational skills. To watch a young competitive gymnast or figure skater is almost mind-boggling. Strength and physical maturity are not required, only an innate understanding of form and technique.
How does that apply to ice hockey? If you have thought about what you just read, the answer is obvious. For players under the age of 13-14 (or pre-pubescent), the only foundational piece of the puzzle that can be addressed is the attainment of good skating form and technique. When your child engages in the All-N-Stride skating treadmill training curriculum, they are studying and practicing through multiple repetitions how to skate correctly. They may be starting to pick up a little leg strength, and the interval-based training is providing the basis for adaptation in later years, but the number one objective is to lay down a strong biomechanical foundation. Sometimes we see high school, junior, or even collegiate players who never developed correct form when they were young. This is always such a tragedy because the window for form and technique development rapidly declines after age 16-18. So now these mature young adult athletes are physically ready for speed development, but they are missing the form and technique piece and there is no making up for lost time.
To summarize, know and understand that there are certain age periods that are optimal for certain kinds of development.
Players age 5-12 should be focusing on form, technique, and skill development.
Players ages 13-16 should continue their form and technique work and combine it with functional strength training with a qualified professional strength coach.
Players ages 16-25 should be engaging in comprehensive and intensive strength training and speed work.
As a parent, the BEST tool you can provide your young hockey player with is training in correct skating form and technique. This will not only provide them with increased playing time opportunities as one of the better skaters on their team, but it will properly prepare them for the 10-15 years of training that it takes to be successful at the highest levels.