Whether it is a Hockey team, Chess team or Corporate team, being a team player is not just about making the cut, it is about being prepared and doing whatever it takes to keep learning, and keep get better in as many areas as possible every day.
Creating a positive team culture starts with attitude. Imagine if everyone came in to the dressing room, field, gym or office focused and positive every day. Every team is better when skill, attitude, character and goals are all in alignment. The attributes each person brings to the table offers a unique opportunity to contribute to the team’s success.
Finding the perfect formula to transition between playoffs and tryouts can be complicated. Every player has different issues and injuries coming out of the season, different strengths and weaknesses, and potentially different expectations as the age of the team increases. Often a new coach comes on board with different philosophies and player needs which complicates the process even further.
Players who did not participate in a strength and conditioning program through the season are often detrained by playoff time. Hockey, while intense and physical, does not present the right overload to adequately build-up or maintain each area of the body. This makes the time between playoffs and tryouts even more critical to quickly re-set and ramp things up in order to be as prepared as possible. The best programs are able to help each athlete re-focus their strengths, re-invigorate their mind, concentrate their focus, maximize their energy level, and close the gap on any weaknesses before the tryouts begin.
5 Key Elements of Success Tryout Preparation
- Train Smart – Maximum Development in Minimum Time
Training hard is easy; training smart and knowing when to adjust the intensity, volume and frequency uncovers the fine line between the art and science of exercise prescription. An efficient tryout preparation will focus on all of the areas that will make the biggest difference in the shortest period of time with the highest short term reward and the lowest amount of risk. Muscle activation, explosiveness, agility, 1st step acceleration, change of speed/direction are the key areas that can be quickly affected within a short time frame with the most significant opportunity to make a difference on the ice at tryouts. Workout efforts should focus on High Intensity (specific to efforts in game and in-practice) but at low volume in order to minimize fatigue and maximize quick recovery.
Although body size is often the biggest determining factor for success in high level youth sports, athleticism and individual skill can often allow smaller athletes to prosper around bigger players and can give them an edge in drill execution and performance. Game breaking plays are often executed within a fingertip to fingertip distance that is expressed as agility and reactivity which is trainable and measureable. Larger players can add another dimension to their game by maximizing their balance and movement skill efficiency as well as the ability to decelerate and change directions quickly off the ice as they enhance their technical skills and conditioning on-the ice.
One other area that is often neglected through the season is the stability, mobility and strength of the core, hip and shoulders. Hockey players quickly develop imbalances in the hips as powerful skating muscles that drive the skating stride (Glutes and hip abductors) become stronger but the supporting muscles that stabilize and control these muscles (adductors/”groin”) become weaker, more unstable and more susceptible to injury.
Similarly, the shoulder girdle can become imbalanced and set up for potential rotator cuff issues, shoulder separations and collarbone fractures if they are not properly stabilized, have limited mobility and/or poor postural control. This preparation period between the season and tryouts and moving toward the off-season training programs is the perfect time to target these key injury prevention areas as well. Dedicating specific training time and focus to these elements can help quickly balance out dysfunction and help get the whole athletic engine running more effectively.
- Nutrition & Hydration – Fuel Yourself; Don’t Fool Yourself
Spoiler alert; filling your stomach does not mean fueling your cells and systems. With today’s busy schedules opportunities to eat well are limited yet absolutely necessary for the body to repair and recover from training, practices, games and life. Think an athlete as a high-performance automobile and food as the fuel that drives performance. Unfortunately, all too often the emphasis is placed on quantity of calories and not quality. Without the proper emphasis on the type of nutrients, the fuel of choice ends up being low grade instead of premium. Often when performance is compensated, nutrition is the limiting factor. Proper Hydration is also critical to performance, muscle function and, most importantly, brain function. (please check out Tina R. Ward’s article, “ Stepping up your Nutrition Game” for more detailed nutrition advice on page ??? )
- Recovery & Regeneration: When the good stuff happens
Athletes today are often asked to train more often, pushed to train harder and challenged to give maximal efforts in workouts, practices, and competition. This must be balanced by scheduling adequate recovery time. Train Smart. Play hard. Recover. Repeat. Rest is when the hard work turns into improved performance.
Many conditioning programs today are built around the culture of intensity, challenge and high metabolic output. They want athletes to go at 100% effort, 100% of the time, at 100MPH, always shooting for a new personal best time or resistance load or effort. In a vacuum this kind of training seems to make sense because effort and overload is what ultimately causes adaptation and results. Unfortunately, the human body does not understand this and the muscles, joints and bones that are put through a continuous barrage of high intensity training can only handle so much before they begin to breakdown and an injury occurs.
Unload, Unlock, Unleash! A properly designed training program builds specific frequency, volume and intensity changes into the training program in order to unload the joints from stress and impact with lower loads and lower impact activities and unlock the muscles with extra stability/mobility and flexibility work (Yoga, stretching, myofascial release etc.) This philosophy allows the athlete to recover, regenerate and revitalize physically and mentally while they continue to get better, so that they can unleash their highest level of performance when they need it most and be their best when their best is needed.
Adequate sleep, or a lack of, can either reinforce or sabotage all of the hard work and learning an athlete has done during the day. This may come in the form of short naps and/or full 8-10 hour night sleep cycles but however you slice it, adequate sleep is essential.
While we sleep, our internal clocks release hormones which are triggered by darkness and light and alternate over 24-hour periods. When we mess with these “circadian rhythms” by not getting enough sleep, our metabolism of glucose (which gives us energy) declines, and our level of cortisol ( a hormone which causes stress) increases.
Sleeping for long stretches is naturally anabolic (builds cells). During deep sleep, our bodies release growth hormone, which stimulates the healing and growth of muscle and bone. So while it’s possible to push through a lack of sleep during any one day, a sleep deficit can begin to add up and have a significant negative effect on long-term performance. A solid sleep boosts areas of performance that require top-notch metal function, like reaction time and hand-eye coordination and aids recovery from tough practices, games and workouts, and overall, just makes you feel good. Ultimately, athletes need to be as smart about sleep as they are about nutrition and exercise.
Mental preparation is often as essential as physical. Flipping the script from the comfort of playing and practicing in the season to a tryout mentality can be key to maximizing success. Some players can flip this switch easily while others are more nervous and reserved. As players mature and develop there is always someone who has made a big improvement coming up a level or two and nothing that says you cannot be the one to go down. Players should come to every tryout with the attitude that they will push to their limits and be the first player ready to go on every drill, win the battle for every puck, and show the coaches that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to make the team. If you are not getting better every day, someone else is.
Coaches can teach tactics and skills, but attitude, work ethic, leadership and respect for coaches and teammates show what is truly inside each athlete. Preparing for tryouts is not only about being the strongest, fastest, fittest or most skilled, it is about being the best teammate, listening, learning , and leading by example. Put in the effort, work hard on every rep in the gym, every drill and every shift. Come into the tryouts focussed and determined not just to make the team, but make the team better. If you prepare well and train smart, chances are when the list is posted, your name will be on it.