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Testing and Tracking Progress

This is an excerpt from Total Hockey Training by Sean Skahan.

The assessment process is an important aspect of a year-round hockey training program for older players (age 16 and above) to measure the results of all the work they put in as well as track their progress over time. Power, speed, strength, and conditioning are attributes that coaches and strength and conditioning coaches can continue to evaluate as a player matures.

Note that testing isn't recommended for younger players. Younger players shouldn't be subjected to testing among their peers and coaches. They shouldn't be evaluated from a physical perspective because they will not have the necessary physical or neuromuscular ability to perform well on some tests. Kids just want to play and have fun and not be embarrassed in front of teammates.

It is important to designate periods of time when testing will take place. The most common time is during the preseason when players can be evaluated to see if they have improved as a result of the off-season strength and conditioning program. It is also a chance to compare each individual player with teammates. The number of tests conducted at this time of year is usually higher than any other time. Another appropriate time for testing is the postseason, depending on the level of hockey. In collegiate hockey, where the team will most likely participate in a phase of training after the season, it would be appropriate. Players can establish a baseline and set individual goals to achieve throughout the off-season. In the professional ranks, postseason testing is less common, although some teams conduct strength and conditioning assessments before departing for the off-season. Important areas to assess and address include body composition, leg power, leg strength, upper body strength, conditioning, and speed.

Body Composition

It is important to test body composition because it indicates the percentage of a player's weight that is adipose (fat) tissue. A high amount of body fat is unnecessary, and carrying extra weight can make hockey players slower

When players are younger, the talented player who has more body fat than others is going to be even more talented when he loses the unnecessary fat. Unfortunately, most players won't have the amount of talent to allow them to be good with higher amounts of body fat. For young players who are heavier, nutrition intervention is a must. Parents need to help their kids succeed by providing them with proper nutrition at home. The player usually isn't the person who is buying the groceries and deciding when to eat out at fast food establishments.

For male hockey players, a body fat percentage of 10 percent or less is recommended. A player with a body fat percentage in the single digits is giving himself the best chance to succeed at any level of play. From practical experience that includes several years of working with professional and collegiate players, body fat percentage ratings are as follows:

  • Below average: >12 percent
  • Average: 8 to 12 percent
  • Above average:

The best advice is to get body fat assessed by a fitness professional if it could be an issue. There are several methods for measuring body fat percentage, including skinfold calipers, underwater measurements, the Bod Pod, and even some scales. As long as body composition is analyzed by the same person over and over again and the person administering the test is using the same device, the readings should be reliable. Some would say the best way to check body fat is to look in the mirror. If a player can't see the abdominal muscles or the serratus anterior muscles (the muscles attached to the ribs under the armpits), then losing some body fat should be a priority.

Leg Power

Lower body power is another key attribute of a successful hockey player. More important, and what should always be a goal, is the continual improvement of leg power throughout a strength and conditioning program. Hockey players both young and old should always try to improve their leg power. In fact, as a player reaches 30, leg power should become the priority as this is one of the first things to diminish with age (Mascaro, Seaver, and Swanson 1992). Plyometrics, Olympic lifting, and leg-strength exercises will help improve leg power.

The vertical jump is a popular method for assessing lower body power in hockey players as vertical jump measurements have correlated highly with on-ice speed (Mascaro, Seaver, and Swanson 1992). The broad jump is another method of assessing lower body power. From practical experience, the vertical jump is an easier and safer test to administer. In the broad jump, less than adequate body mechanics while taking off and landing are more common.

For testing the vertical jump, the Just Jump mat or the Vertec are the better options for assessment tools. The Just Jump mat is a device that measures the time spent in the air between takeoff and landing. It is quick and effective, especially for measuring a large group of athletes. Like any other test, there are methods of cheating. However, an experienced tester should be able to recognize cheating with the Just Jump mat. With the Vertec, the athlete jumps up and hits the colored sticks with the hand. Some players prefer this method because it allows them to reach for something while they jump. A popular cheating method is not reaching up as high as possible when the reach measurement is conducted. Since the total score is the highest jump measurement minus the reach measurement, a lower reach will help the player get a better score. Another more logistical flaw is that you must take two measurements (reach and jump) and always readjust the device to allow for higher jumps. From practical experience that includes several years of working with professional and collegiate players, vertical jump ratings (both feet, no pause) are as follows:

  • Below average:
  • Average: 25 to 27 inches
  • Above average: >27 inches

Whatever method you use, keep a record of the scores. At the end of the off-season strength and conditioning program, repeat the test to see if the program helped improve leg power.

Learn more about Total Hockey Training.

More Excerpts From Total Hockey Training