BostonBruins.com - If you ask Kevin Neeld when he first became interested in performance coaching, he'll point you right back to his youth hockey days with the Wilmington Typhoons in Delaware.
"I played for a coach that was really big on the off-ice training side of things, and at the time, there was nobody else that was really doing that," said Neeld, who will be providing weekly home exercise tips with Wednesday Workout, pres. by Beth Israel Lahey Health. "That was where I was first exposed to it, and it really had a significant impact on how I felt on the ice - you could see the impact it had on my teammates and just the advantage and growth it provided for us. And I knew at that time, that might be an area that I want to pursue."
Now, as the Bruins Head Performance Coach, Neeld faces a similar objective - to provide his team with the off-ice strength and conditioning training they need in order for each individual player to see better results on the ice.
At the time Neeld began college at the University of Delaware, though, the path to doing that - and becoming a performance coach - wasn't exactly clear.
"I had actually applied to be an athletic training student," said Neeld, who joined the Bruins before the 2018-19 season. "At the time, I knew that I wanted to pursue an academic background that would help me train athletes. Now, strength and conditioning is a fairly well-known phrase, but back then I wasn't aware of that nomenclature. I don't think the idea of having athlete-specific training was as prominent as it is today."
After realizing athletic training didn't exactly encompass the "training" he was looking for, Neeld turned to a health behavior science degree with minors in sports conditioning and coaching science. Still, he wasn't sure if he'd rather his training be directed more toward off-ice training, or on-ice skill development.
It wasn't until he completed an internship with Eric Cressey, the current Director of Performance for the New York Yankees, that he realized he wanted to focus more on strength and conditioning over on-ice skill development.
"From a bird's eye view, people hear 'performance coach' and they may not know what that means," Neeld explained. "For me, my role is to really design and implement the team's in-season and off-season training programs. Part of that involves facilitating the testing we go through in training camp, and using that to identify what the training focus should be for some of the players and then designing the team's program, then making individual adjustments where necessary and coaching the players through that throughout the season."
Neeld's career in training has carried him through a seven-year coaching position with Endeavor Sports in South Jersey, multiple internships, and time as a strength and conditioning coach with both the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team and as an Assistant Performance Coach with the San Jose Sharks, all before landing his gig with the Bruins.
Now in Boston, Neeld's objective is centered around designing and implementing the entire team's performance training program. The role of a performance coach doesn't stop there, either - there's sports science initiatives, where players' on-ice workouts are monitored, and wellness questionnaires are filled out so the performance team can gauge levels of energy, soreness and sleep quality.
That information is all tailored to each athlete, an objective he's gained from consistently working individually with all of his athletes, from his time coaching at Endeavor Sports all the way to working with a team like the Bruins.
"When I was at Endeavor, as a staff we really put an emphasis on writing individual programs to help make sure every athlete is getting exactly what they need to put them in a position to be successful, said Neeld. "I think there are challenges when doing that in the private sector and challenges doing that in the team sector."
Despite the shift between coaching at a private facility like Endeavor and a team like the Bruins, Neeld is maintaining that individualized approach to performance coaching in order to maximize each player's potential - an approach that helped him in his youth hockey days, and continues to help the players he now trains.
"I think in a team setting, we still try to apply those same principles of trying to individualize our approach as much as possible because every athlete, regardless of if they're the same age and playing the same position and playing on the same team at the same level - their needs aren't necessarily the same," said Neeld.
"Some players really would benefit more from getting stronger; others would benefit from getting a step quicker. Others maybe are really gifted in those areas and need to spend a little bit more of their training focused on trying to improve their conditioning and the consistency they can execute their speed and power.
"We try to just guide some of the training decisions in a way that helps each of the individual players."