Keeping Your Beginner Hockey Players Injury Free
As coach, you can and should minimize the chances of your players getting injured in the first place. Taking certain preventative measures ahead of time will also help you deal with potential injuries so that they don’t become any more serious than necessary.
Establishing a safe base
You can take a few steps at the very beginning of the season to limit some potential for injury from arising:
Know the health history of your players. Collect confidential information from the parents so that you know which of your players might potentially suffer a medical incident, such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, or seizures. Then do your homework to know how to handle such an occurrence calmly and safely.
Prevent dehydration problems. Have players bring their own water bottles and establish a practice of having players drink a quarter cup (a few swallows) every 15 minutes throughout practices and games. Do not allow sugar or glucose drinks in the bottles (with the possible exception during all-day tournament play). And at no time should your players take salt tablets.
Have medical assistance at your fingertips. Keep a working cellular phone with you at all times or know where the nearest working payphone is and always keep a couple of quarters in your kit bag. If 911 is not an option in your area, also keep the local ambulance, hospital, and police numbers with your quarters.
Ensuring a safe environment
Another way to minimize injuries is to take precautions at the rink before practices and games:
Check equipment. Do what you can to make sure that players wear proper-fitting protective pads, helmets, and skates. Cheap-quality, worn-out, or loose-fitting equipment is an invitation to injury.
Check the rink. Skate around observing the rink boards and glass. See that doors to the ice are closed and that the ice surface is clear of debris, is not soft, and does not contain holes that skate blades could catch in. If a problem exists, fix it.
Compete against your own size. As much as possible, match players for size and weight. Ideally the league helps, but players grow at different rates. If you face a team with bigger players, try to get the opposing coach to agree to match lines, at least by size and skill level, especially when contact hockey is introduced.
Set rules. Everyone on the team should know that you don’t condone horseplay, you expect cleanliness and hygiene in the locker room and on the bench, and you expect players to stay home with a flu or cold so that they do not spread it to teammates.
Warm, flexible joints have not traditionally been a concern with young players because they always used to do plenty of moving before they got to practice. However, with so many kids now sitting with video games, television, and rides to the rink, your players’ muscles may be cold and stiff as they step onto the ice. These conditions may predispose them to injury. Therefore, a brief warm-up may be warranted.
Players need ten minutes of whole body exercise, such as skating forward, backwards, and sideways with arm action, to increase heat, followed by a few minutes of loose stretching, such as arm and leg rotations, to prepare the muscles and joints for practices and games. With ice time being at such a premium for minor hockey, you may want to do this off-ice using the same principles, or make your first drill as “whole body” and loose as possible and follow that with some dynamic stretching, particularly for the shoulders and hips.
Working on fitness and conditioning
The more elementary the level of hockey, the less important it is that you spend time on fitness and conditioning for your players. Their hockey activity is their fitness activity, so long as you make sure they don’t stand or sit around too much at practices and games. However, as skill level increases, the relevance of fitness increases for players. Players who want to excel in hockey will need a strong fitness habit.
Good fitness training can reduce the risk of injury and can speed up recovery if a player does get injured. Aside from the impact on injury, fitness gives a player more strength to generate power for shooting and skating, and more endurance to be strong longer. So elite hockey players need to be in great shape; youth players need to be safe and feel sufficiently strong.
Basic fitness needs for hockey begin with flexibility. This reduces the chance of strain and sprain-type injuries. After that, some muscle strength and endurance work is useful so that their muscles are strong enough first to grip and skate and then to shoot and check safely. Balanced muscle strength and flexibility help prevent over-use types of injuries, such as bad backs. Aerobics becomes more important as speed and full-length competitive games become part of their hockey level.
Serious fitness training is easiest to do off-ice, but most coaches don’t have the time, facilities, or necessity at these levels to conduct serious conditioning sessions. Therefore, we recommend you use an on-ice, fun circuit like the one presented here to top up fitness elements in your players. This also provides an opportunity for you to see whether any players have particular weaknesses that need attention. For players who need specific hockey conditioning, a variety of books are available for their reference.
The circuit in the figure below is designed to make good use of your ice time by combining fitness work with work on some hockey skill elements. The circuit also uses a player’s own body weight for strength elements, which makes it safe for all ages.
Discourage young, growing players from experimenting with weight training to increase strength. Weight training can cause more harm than good and is generally unnecessary. For older players who aspire to elite hockey levels, weight training under the supervision of a certified professional who understands hockey is appropriate.
A circuit like the one that follows should be fun for the players. It should also help them develop a fitness activity habit that will serve them well as they advance in hockey — as well as down the road of life.
This circuit continues nonstop for 13.5 minutes. To begin, assign each player to an exercise station so that two or three players are at each station. Players must note the number they start at and rotate in numerical order. You signal the start of the circuit.
After one minute at an exercise station, blow the whistle and all players skate at a moderate pace up the middle of the ice and down the outside boards, crossing over at center so that they alternate the direction of their turns. After 30 seconds, blow the whistle again and players move on to and immediately begin the next exercise station in their rotation.
So the circuit alternates one minute of nine different strong exercises with 30 seconds of moderate skating, finishing with a skate. The circuit works on power, strength, and aerobics at the same time as key skating and shooting skills. It is good for all players of all ages. Pace is the factor to change to appropriately challenge the different skill levels. Give breathers (five- to ten-count breaks mid-exercise) or allow a more moderate pace for the little kids so that they focus on their skills. For advanced players, increase the time for lap skating (to 60 seconds) and/or the pace (to strong). Provide loads of encouragement for all.
Mark pylons each with a number 1 to 9. Also write the name of an exercise station based on the following list (or make up your own names) on each pylon. Then set the corresponding pylon at each exercise station as indicated in the rink diagram. Players will rotate from pylon station to pylon station performing the following tasks:
Push-ups: Place hands under shoulders as you lie face-down on the ice. Keep your body straight while you press up until your elbows are straight, then lower back to lying on the ice. Repeat at a steady pace.
Shuttle skate: Start at the blue line. Going as hard as possible, skate forward to the center line. Stop. Turn facing the boards and skate back to the blue line. Stop. Turn facing the boards and skate to the far blue line. Stop. Skate slowly back to the starting point. If skill allows, use pucks.
Twisting sit-ups: Lie on your back on the ice with your skate blades flat on the ice (knees bent). Place your hands on your helmet. Curl your right elbow up until it touches your left knee, then return to the starting position. Then curl your left elbow up until it touches your right knee and return to the starting position. Repeat alternating to left and right.
Pivot skate: Start on the blue line. Skate fast backwards to the center line. Pivot to your left to skate forward to the far blue line. Stop. Skate forward to the center line. Pivot to your left to skate backwards to the starting blue line. Stop. Repeat pivoting to your right for the next lap. Alternate left and right laps.
Rapid shot: Stand outside the goal crease with seven pucks. Pick a spot low at the back of one side of the net and rapid fire all seven pucks into that spot using a forehand shot with no pause between shots. Be sure your teammate has finished at his side of the net before you retrieve your pucks and repeat using a backhand shot.
Figure-eight skate: Using the face-off dots between the blue lines, skate a figure eight as fast as possible for three laps. Then do one slow lap. Repeat the sequence. If skill allows, use pucks.
Down-ups: From a standing position, drop to a crouch, place your hands on the ice, extend your legs straight out to a push-up position, then back to the crouch, and then explode into a maximum jump straight up. Repeat this sequence. Take a five-count breather every five reps if the power of your jump fades.
Cross-circle skate: Start on the face-off dot. Moving as quickly as possible, skate forward to the edge of the circle. Stop. Skate backwards to the dot. Stop. Side step right to the circle. Stop. Side step back to the dot. Stop. Crossover left to the circle. Stop. Crossover back to the dot. Stop. Skate backwards to the circle. Stop. Skate forward to the dot. Stop. Repeat the sequence.
Dips: Place chairs, a bench, or the net on its face against the end boards. Sit on the bench placing your hands on the edge of the seat at your hips and extend your legs straight out in front. Shift your hips off the bench and lower them as close to the ice as possible and press back up until they are even with the bench. Repeat.