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Six ways to improve your game this offseason

Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 9:00 AM / Hockey Skills presented by Canadian Tire

By Deborah Francisco - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Six ways to improve your game this offseason
How do youth players improve during the months when they're not on the ice? A young athlete development specialist has tips for dry-land training.

Once the last outdoor rink melts and the final school bell rings, youth hockey players will want to start thinking about ways to stay in shape this offseason.

Nate Beveridge, the general manager and director of young athlete development at Hybrid Athletics in Langley, B.C., has some ideas.

Beveridge has worked with athletes from all ages and abilities, including athletes from the NHL, WHL, AHL, BCHL and the Olympics. Through all of this training he has developed his own philosophy of fitness.

"I don't believe in sport-specific training," Beveridge told NHL.com. "I believe in athlete-specific training and I think everyone needs to be a better athlete. If you are a better athlete, you are going to be better at your sport so you will be stronger, faster and more powerful."

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Based on this philosophy, Beveridge has six ideas youth hockey players can use this offseason to maximize their workouts and become better athletes.

1. Get a Skipping Rope

Skipping is really good for hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, cardiovascular work and quick feet. Skipping a couple of minutes every other day is good for many things: strengthening your lower legs, endurance, cardiovascular and agility.

Skipping is easy because you can just throw a rope into your bag, and no matter where you are, there's always room to do it. You don't need an agility ladder or any fancy equipment as long as you have a jump rope.

2. Develop Core Musculature

Hockey players engage their core muscles (essentially your body minus your legs and arms) in every aspect of the game from faceoffs to body checks to wrist shots. It is important to develop these key muscles from a young age.

Engaging your core muscles can be as simple as doing planks, sit-ups or hanging from a bar and pulling your legs into the air.

Try varying your core exercises with other forms of training. For example, skip rope for a minute, do a bridge for a minute, skip for a minute, then do a bridge for a minute. Or, skip for a minute, do 10 sit-ups, skip for a minute, do a bridge and continue on in this pattern.

Anybody can do bodyweight exercises anywhere you want. You can go to the local park and use the monkey bars or the jungle gym and you can hang from the bar and try to pull yourself up to it. You can do pushups in your bedroom every morning and every night or you can do sit ups all the time. Hockey is very dependent on leg power, so developing some strength through doing squats and lunges and those kinds of exercises is definitely going to make a huge difference.

3. Do Reactive Drills

Hockey is all about reading and reacting, so it's important to do drills that are not simply static but cause you to react. For example, do a box jump where you jump each time your partner claps, versus just jumping when you want. This causes you to process the sound into your brain and then react to it.

For another reactive drill, have your partner hold a hockey ball in front of you and level with your shoulder. Hold your hands out to the sides and when your partner drops the ball, you have to react and catch the ball as quickly as you can. As you see the ball drop, you react by trying to catch it. To make it more challenging, have your partner get lower and lower, or put your hands behind your back in between each drop.

4. Grab a Buddy

Train with a friend. Then you have somebody to help keep you accountable or someone to work with to challenge you. Even if it's a small group and you are accountable to each other, you're going to work a little bit harder because you're trying to beat your buddies and it's more competitive, and then you've got someone to keep you motivated and track your progress.

Also, look up a local fitness professional -- maybe a friend or a teacher at school, somebody who can give you insight on proper mechanics and how to do different activities. You could spend all summer working hard, but if you're doing the movements incorrectly, you're running the risk of hurting yourself.

5. Aim High

When you set goals, there is always that saying that you want to shoot for the stars and land on the moon.

You always want to set your goals very high. If you are reaching them too easily, they probably aren't challenging enough. At the same time, you also want to set realistic goals, because if it's something like, I'm going to run 10 kilometers every day, and it's unrealistic, it's easy to get discouraged and not want to try anymore. Instead, set a simple goal like: I'm going to skip for three minutes and I'm going to do 10 sit-ups and 10 push-ups every day. Start out easy, and if after a week you're reaching your goals then you can increase and adjust them.

Setting lofty goals is great, but make sure you have steps to get there that are realistic, so you will actually follow through. This way you are in control of it and are not setting unrealistic goals that you get discouraged by and then fall off of the wagon completely.

6. Stretch and Recover

One major thing that gets neglected is flexibility. Your ability to be flexible is going to limit the chance of injury you have. Every time we train our muscles, they tear and then get bigger and stronger; that's just how they work. But they also get tighter if you don't stretch them out properly, and the tighter you are the less range of motion you have and the less able you are to create force through those ranges of motion and the less powerful you are. So flexibility, as much as it seems boring or tedious, is just as important as developing strength and power.

Recovery is another area where you may be falling short. Make sure you get enough sleep, that you're eating the right kinds of foods and not eating lots of sweets and junk food that is going to spike your insulin. Rest is important for your muscles to recover, because as much as training them is great, if they don't recover then they don't grow.