We all want our players firing on all cylinders when the playoffs roll around. So how do we get there?
If there was a magic formula that guaranteed peak performance someone would haver found it by now and probably wouldn’t be coaching hockey. They’d be the CEO of a gigantic tech company or something like that – someone who launches roadsters into space with fake space men zooming around, taunting the universe.
Oh yeah, someone has already done that.
But when it comes to hockey players, money isn’t necessarily the answer when it comes to peaking at the right time for the playoffs. There are other considerations.
1. Are You Even Going to Make the Playoffs?
I’ve coached teams that have sewn up a playoff spot in December and I’ve coached teams who couldn’t find the postseason if it dumped a huge bottle of gatorade on them. Everything in between, too. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of tapering your practices or off-ice training because you can’t look past the next game. Standings within the post season tournament count for a lot of hockey teams as well. Home ice advantage could save your program thousands of dollars or simply allow you the comforts of staying in your own dressing room.
So, with that in mind, it’s important to remember – you play to win the game, as a famous coach once said. If you ease up on your preparation and take the remaining games for granted, then your team will regret it at some point during the postseason.
2. Rest Is a Weapon
Alright, we’re still trying to win, right? Right. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ensure that each individual isn’t fresh as a morning daisy when the puck drops for game one. For me, it’s a simple matter of weighing what’s important and balancing the scales.
If your team is going to lose if you don’t spend extra time during the stretch drive on puck retrievals, then it’s probably a good idea to use that time wisely on the ice. The importance of those skills, in this instance, outweighs the benefit of rest.
If you’re not going to see enough benefit from practice to outweigh the benefits of taking a day off, then take the day off, or keep the players off the ice and put them through an activation/recovery, and show some video.
College and university programs in North America have their players in the gym twice weekly, on average. That’s a lot of weight lifted from September through February. Hockey players work on explosive power, strength, agility, mobility, endurance – are they going to lose that fitness in the next two weeks?
The answer is no.
Keep the intensity high and drastically reduce the volume by up to as much as 60%. For most coaches this involves a conversation with your strength and conditioning coaches.
But it also applies to practices. At this point hopefully you’re comfortable with how your team is organized and performing its systems – if you’re not, then you might not be a playoff team or you can’t afford the luxury of tapering. If you can cut practice time down – 30 minutes or somewhere around there – then you can keep the intensity high. This will help the players get comfortable with an intense environment for the duration of practice, which duplicates the environment of a game.
Because ultimately, the playoffs are about performance. So ensure that your team has the best opportunity to find peak performance.
Good luck everybody.
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