Building resilient youth athletes

Hockey season is almost upon us. One of the questions I hear once the season starts is “how can I help my son or daughter be more successful?”. There are a number of simple steps we need to progress through that will help athletes young or old old reach the pinnacle of their sport. Each step MUST be in place to achieve the next one.

1. Recovery / Stress
Is the athletes getting a minimum of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep? Does the athlete have a mindfulness routine that enables focus and helps to reduce stress?

2. Nutrition
Is the athlete eating a sufficient amount of meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some fruit to enable hard training but not so much they gain body fat? Are they eating optimal proportions of protein, carbohydrate and fat?

3. Metabolic Conditioning
Does the athletes conditioning program train the energy systems that apply to their sport?
For our hockey athlete, are we training explosive power and anaerobic (sub 10 min) performance? Forwards and defencemen spend approximately 75% of their game time using the anaerobic system (glycolytic pathway) and 25% of their time using explosive power (phosphagen pathway).

4. Gymnastics
Can the athlete control their body, move into optimal positions, and have joint range of motion needed for their sport? Think yoga, plyometrics, calisthenics and dance. All of these training methods focus on body control. Imagine our hockey player cannot hold a solid plank position, do a strict pushup or pullup, or hold an unweighted squat. How can we expect them to perform or express power without core strength/stability? We refer to these issues as a “faulty transmission”.

5. Throwing / Weightlifting
Nothing elicits a training response or adaptation as effectively as heavy resistance exercises. For hockey players who need to be explosive while retaining flexibility, weightlifting movements like the snatch and clean are invaluable. The pathway to these movements is the deadlift, press and squat. The coordination, strength, agility, accuracy, and balance required to perform the olympic lifts have a strong carryover for hockey performance while greatly reducing the risk of injuries. Throwing exercises with medicine balls are easy to learn and also help newer athletes learn the control necessary for barbell exercises.

6. Sport Specific Skills
Again, back to our hockey example: can the athlete skate, shoot and pass the puck? Do they understand the rules and the position they are playing? These skills fall outside the realm of the strength and conditioning coach and must be filled by a sport-specific expert. These skills are the top or peak of the athlete development hierarchy,

For your consideration: a forward with a great shot who is in poor condition and weak. How often will this player actually be in a position to shoot? How much ice time can this player accumulate without an injury? My argument is that this player had not spent their training time wisely. Too much time at level 6 and not enough time at levels 3 through 5.

Take another example: the last day of a tournament. Are you able to tell the players who stayed up all night and ate fast food versus the players who had a curfew (and stuck to it) and ate balanced meals of whole foods? Besides injury, rest and diet have the biggest impact on game day performance, and are also the lowest hanging fruit.
What about YOUR athlete? Many trainers and coaches are more than willing to meet with you and help discuss your needs and tailor effective training and nutrition programs. Get a head start on a successful season by doing this now.

Book a “no-sweat” intro with Coach Andy at or by calling/texting 519 955 6016

Further reading: “What is fitness”