Activities and drills for the agility ladder are limited by only your creativity. Most athletes, and certainly most trainers, are familiar with basic agility ladder use. This versatile tool should not be limited to basic use, however. Incorporating advanced hand-eye activity and upper body exercises helps make the ladder even more effective. Passing exercises, doing upper body movement while in the ladder and using the ladder as part of an obstacle course are examples of ways to make it a more effective—and fun—exercise.
I highly recommend getting an agility ladder and using it diligently. You will be amazed at how versatile it can be as an exercise, too. You will also be amazed at the results as your feet get quicker and you become a better hockey player!
Editor's Note: Along with working with HockeyOT.com, Mike Beckman is a physical therapist and founder of Valley Rehabilitation Services. He has been in practice since 1986. He has worked with athletes at all levels and sports in both rehab and performance training.
- Be fitted for skates only at specialty hockey shops. They are knowledgeable about skates and will help you find the skates to best meet your needs.
- When being fitted for new boots, wear the same weight of sock you will wear when skating. A sock of a different weight can change the fit. Do not wear two pairs of socks as this “disconnects” your feet from the boots.
- Before putting your feet into skates, unlace them most of the way. Trying to jam your foot into a boot that is three-quarters laced is an exercise in frustration—your feet just won’t go in and you’ll think the boots are too small.
- When the skates are laced up, there should be a spread of 1.5 to 2 inches between the eyelets on the same row. If the laces are closer together than this, the boots are too wide for your feet and your ankles will cave inward when skating. If you heels slip or you can lift them the skates are too long.
- Your toes should come up to the fronts of the boots but should not be pinched or curled up on one another.
- Boots should fit snugly at the insteps and across the balls of the feet. If you can move your feet sideways within the boots, they are too wide. If you can lift your heels when you lean forward, the boots are too long.
Other skate-fitting tips include:
- Today’s skates tend to be extremely stiff and difficult to break in. High-level players who skate hard and wear them for hours at a time prefer stiff boots because they last longer. But youngsters, small adults, females and recreational skaters will have a hard time breaking them in. These skaters should consider a brand or model this is a bit less stiff.
- Another option is to buy secondhand skates that are in good condition. It’s better to have good-quality used skates than poor-quality new skates. When choosing used skates, be sure the blades are in good condition and not sharpened down excessively. Many hockey shops carry used skates. Hockey associations often hold skate swaps, usually at the beginning of the hockey season.
- It’s fine to wear corrective orthotics in your skates—they will improve your balance and performance. But the size of the boots must accommodate the orthotics so bring them along when being fitted for new skates.
- Skate sizes usually differ from street shoe sizes and from one brand to another. Each manufacturer builds boots on a different mold, so one brand might fit well but others might not.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Laura Stamm of Laura Stamm Power Skating for this story.
- To skate well, hockey players must have well-constructed boots that fit properly with blades made of well-tempered steel, properly sharpened.
- The skate boots support the feet firmly while allowing skaters to lean their boots inward and outward. Good boots have reinforcing material in the counter (instep) area. The reinforcing material makes that area of the boots especially supportive for the arches and ankles. If boots are well made, you should not be able to squeeze the counter and ankle areas together.
- Top-of-the-line boots fit better, provide more support, last longer and offer better protection against injury from pucks or sticks. Choose your skates wisely—they are instrumental in preparing you to develop the skating skills necessary for speed, agility and power.
- Lack of good ankle support almost guarantees that skating will be difficult and uncomfortable. Ankles that cave in cause pain!
Note that unless there has been a specific injury to the foot, weak ankles are generally a myth. If ankles cave in, the cause is usually boots that are ill-fitting or have poorly constructed counters.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Laura Stamm of Laura Stamm Power Skating for this story.
“We are excited to launch the first genuine hockey equipment recycling effort in North America,” says Michael Benoit, president and CEO of Total Hockey.
HockeyGreen provides players with an incentive to recycle their broken and unusable composite hockey sticks instead of just throwing them away. HockeyGreen rewards customers for going green. Every broken composite hockey stick is eligible for a $10 credit towards a qualifying stick purchase at Total Hockey. Beginning June 1, customers are asked to bring broken sticks to their local Total Hockey retail store. In early August, customers will be able to recycle their old sticks online at hockeygreen.com and apply the $10 credit towards online stick purchases.
The goal of the program is to collect broken composite hockey sticks from hockey players around the nation to build a large inventory that can be used in the research and development of discovering a way to capture and extract the carbon fiber and develop a method to reuse these materials in the creation of new products.
“We have wrestled with this concept for the last 18 months because of the evident challenges of reclaiming carbon fiber from stick materials. We finally decided not to wait any longer,” Benoit says. “Instead, we are offering the recycling industry a chance to capture the T Prize, an award aimed at incenting engineers and material processors to uncover the secrets of carbon fiber recapture from composite hockey sticks.”
In an effort to find a way to recycle carbon fiber, Total Hockey is taking on the task of collecting and housing large amounts of carbon fiber materials to provide to organizations focused on the research and development process of recycling these materials. The third-party organizations will focus on either the reuse of carbon fiber materials or the use of carbon fiber materials in experimental research.
The T Prize is a $100,000 award being offered by Total Hockey for the individual or company that can develop an economically viable process for the extraction and reuse of carbon fibers from composite hockey sticks.
“Total Hockey is in the process of recruiting and assembling a small team of experts to help us define the specific requirements for T Prize qualification and we expect to release the specifics before the end of the year,” Benoit states.
HockeyGreen.com will feature updates on the T Prize, including the announcements on the expert panel selection, specific parameters for qualification for eligibility for the T Prize and delivering the award planned for late 2012.
“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to do something about the environment within our sport. It is wonderful to recycle bottles, cans and paper, but to be a pioneer in a major initiative involving the recycling of hockey gear itself is fantastic,” says Benoit.
Total Hockey is committed to demonstrating progress in environmental understanding and practices to help reduce its ecological impact in the world. The hockey retailer is actively pursuing avenues to engage the hockey community in its green efforts to not only raise awareness, but also provide solutions to minimize the organization’s carbon footprint. These endeavors focus on implementing strategies to further reuse, recycle and reduce products and services at Total Hockey.
Editor’s Note: Total Hockey is the title sponsor for Grow the Game: Passionate About Growing the Game of Hockey and the exclusive ice hockey equipment retailer of USA Hockey.
About five years ago, USA Hockey issued a suggestion that the Blue Puck be used for Squirts and a requirement that it be used for Mites. So just exactly what is a Blue Puck, and why don’t we see more of them?
A regular puck weighs six ounces; the blue one is 25 percent less. For kids that are still a few years away from getting their strength, a Blue Puck is easier to handle, easier to pass, and much easier to shoot. Going “top shelf” becomes possible. The idea behind USA Hockey’s recommendation is that making the game more fun for more players at the beginning levels will result in accelerated skill development and increased retention.
Followers of the NHL know the league isn’t just for North Americans like it was through the 1970s. Rosters today include scores of Scandinavians, Russians, and Czechs. Finns and Swedes play Blue Puck through age 10, and Czechs use it too but it is not required.
Critics cite tradition (“we don’t have any problems with the black puck”) and logistics (“just one more thing to keep track of”), but usually focus mainly on the different playing characteristics of the Blue Puck. Simply put, it bounces. I grew up playing lots of outdoor hockey with no gear. As a result, there were no “lifters.” Sometimes we would mix it up and play with a tennis ball or ultra-light “sponge” puck. These too have far different playing characteristics, but I can assure you it was just as much fun.
USA Hockey terms this a mandate and not just a recommendation. Recently they have made it a point of emphasis to monitor use of the Blue Puck at the Mite level. It is still unclear what penalty will be for noncompliance, but don’t be surprised if you see more of the Blue Puck in the future. Our sport’s national governing body has asked that everyone give it a chance, at least long enough to let the kids decide if they like it.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to John Conley of the Florida Youth Hockey Report: The Fire for this story. Click here to see back issues of The Fire.
Stay dry and rash free…
Long-sleeve shirts and leggings in synthetic moisture-wicking fabrics keep players dry. “If it keeps the sweat off of you, you’re not going to get a rash or anything like that from sweat buildup,” says Keegan, a roller and ice hockey player from Northern Utah and creator of schoolyardpuck.com.
…but only if you sweat in the first place.
A synthetic base layer is not a requirement for hockey. Jeremy, a longtime Canadian player and creator of howtohockey.com, only recommends a base layer for players once they hit puberty and start sweating more. “Unless you’re sweating profusely you wouldn’t really need to wear it. If you have young children and they’re not really going to break a sweat, it’s just an added expense,” he says. (Unless, of course, you’re facing the aforementioned eczema situation.)
Do you need the brand name?
High-end brands can run $40 for the top, $30 to $40 for the leggings and $10 for skate socks. Do you need to add that expense to an already costly sport? Not really. “UnderArmour is the first, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better brand out there that’s making something better for cheaper. I would give the other products a try,” says Jeremy.
Many parents say the brand names hold up (to repeated washings, skate blades, Velcro and more) better than discount store brands such as Champion. But at a quarter of the price, you can buy more (meaning fewer laundry needs) and replace them as growth requires.
Keegan also stresses to not let the lack of a base layer stop children from playing the game. “Don’t let equipment cost hinder your opportunity to play. Don’t think you have to wait until you have all the right gear to play. I remember I started out with pants that had huge holes on each leg. It didn’t matter; I just really wanted to play,” he says.
Tips from the Trenches
Whatever kind of base layer a player wears—whether an old cotton T-shirt or a high-tech compression shirt—you’re going to need to wash it. Often.
- Buy at least two pairs so you can wash one, wear one.
- Remember to switch the clean and dirty set as soon as you get home.
- Consider a color other than black so you can find it in your black hole of a bag.
- For males, look for synthetic leggings or compression shorts that can hold a cup, so they serve as a jock as well.
- According to Total Hockey, for best fit under your pads and top mobility, be sure your base layer is snug and doesn’t bunch or gather.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Rose Conry, an intern with the Grow the Game Initiative, for this story. Rose studies journalism at Northwestern University, loves all sports and sails competitively with the university’s club team.
Plus, USA Hockey requires a mouthguard for all youth hockey players, and players are often checked for mouthguards at tournaments. Beyond that, it’s just common sense for anyone playing hockey to wear a mouthguard. Read on for top practical tips on what to buy and how to care for it.
Why to Wear a Mouthguard
The reasons for wearing a mouthguard range from safety to vanity, but all are significant:
- You have to: USA Hockey requires all youth hockey players in the United States to wear a mouthguard to protect their teeth and to prevent concussions and injuries to the temporomandibular joint.
- Keep safe: Mouthguards do more than protect your teeth—they can protect your lips, cheek, face, jaw, neck and more.
- Protect your smile: Everyone looks better and is more confident with teeth.
- Avoid the dentist: Dental work is expensive, time consuming and sometimes painful.
- Improve performance: Beyond preventing the trouble you may have eating pizza or chewing gum—or attracting members of the opposite sex—without teeth, there may be another reason to wear a mouthguard. Mouthguards may improve athletic performance, which you can read about in Time magazine in the best-headlined article on the topic ever: Big-League Chew.
What to Choose
To be of any use, a mouthguard needs to be (1) in the mouth and (2) fit well. Chewing on a corner is not the same thing as wearing a mouthguard—nor is letting it dangle from your helmet. Given the importance of this piece of equipment to your health, find one you will like and wear.
- Stock: Ready-made mouthguards come in small, medium and large. They are inexpensive and yet often uncomfortable. These may be good for kids whose mouths are changing rapidly or tend to lose them often.
- Formed: Known as “boil-and-bite,” these mouthguards are a little sleeker and more comfortable than stock mouthguards. Boil it in water to soften it and then bite on it to form it to your mouth. These are a good middle-of-the-road solution between stock and custom mouthguards.
- Custom: Made by a dentist or with an at-home kit, custom mouthguards fit extremely well and allow for easy speaking and breathing. They can, however, be expensive and time-consuming to acquire (from around $60 to $300). If you think it will be lost or outgrown quickly, these may not be for you.
Note: On the theory that the best mouthguard is the one they’ll wear, my sons have had custom mouthguards in the past. The first time, a very nice dentist dad offered the entire team one—in team colors—as an ingenuous introduction to his practice (which worked—he’s our dentist now). The second time, I paid for them at his friends-and-family rate, still a lot for a mouthguard for kids with rapidly changing mouths. Did it work? One loves his except when coaches think he’s not wearing one due to its sleek fit. The other one, a Mite, chews on it as it hangs out his helmet—something he can just as easily do with a $5 guard, except with the $5 guard the coaches are more likely to notice and make him put it in.
How it Should Fit
Like all other pieces of athletic equipment, you will not have your mouthguard forever. It will wear out or you will outgrow it, usually within a year.
- It should be tight yet comfortable.
- You should be able to breathe and talk with reasonable comfort.
- Trim a stock or formed mouthguard as necessary to fit—just be sure it still covers all the teeth.
- Replace a distorted or frayed mouthguard.
- Replace it if it has holes or jagged edges.
- Replace it after growth spurts or changes in teeth (lost, new, moved, braced).
- To get more value out of it, wear it for any activity that poses a risk to the mouth: scootering, biking, skiing, snowboarding and the like.
- Have the dentist check the mouthguard for fit during regular cleanings.
How to Care for It
Ever seen a kid dig a mouthguard out of the bottom of his hockey bag—a bag full of dirty socks, sweaty pads and spilled sports drinks—and pop it in his mouth? Maybe he’ll rinse it in the drinking fountain first, but that’s about it. So I admit, the official mouthguard care rules made me laugh out loud—and yet commit to doing a better job of taking care of them.
- When to clean: Sanitize after each use to remove bacteria, fungus and mold. While this may not happen, if your mouthguard has been languishing in your bag all summer, for example, clean it before the season starts. After that, try cleaning it once a week.
- How to clean: Clean it according to the manufacturer instructions, likely denture cleaning solution, a toothbrush and toothpaste, or soap and water.
- Where to store: Store it in a box, preferably one with a little airflow. (You can actually buy sanitizing mouthguard cases.) If you don’t have a box and are on the way to a game or something, at least grab a baggy for it.
- Keep it cool: Don’t leave it out in the sun or it can melt and change shape.
Tips from the Trenches
Experienced hockey parents and players have run into every mouthguard situation you can think of; a few things to watch out for follow.
- In the bag: After you clean your mouthguard, make sure to get it back in your hockey bag. One way to remember this is to put it by the car keys, ready to go out, or just take it straight to the bag.
- Keep a backup: Always have a cheap backup mouthguard in your hockey bag in case you forget yours. Just leave it in its packaging or a baggy.
- Keep germs to yourself: Leave your mouthguard in and your gloves on when you shake hands after a game to keep from spreading the flu, meningitis or even just colds.
- No clear: USA Hockey requires colored mouthguards as clear ones are hard for refs and coaches to find and remove if you’re injured.
- Wear it: Think like Dr. Seuss. Wear it with braces. Wear it to open skate. Wear it to stick-and-puck. Wear it to games. Just wear it.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kelly Kordes Anton with the Grow the Game Initiative for this story.
For information, I talked to Robert Hineline at the Skater’s Edge. Despite working with nationally ranked figure skaters and hockey players, Hineline is full of practical tips for parents of players at any age or level.
Start with the Sock
Don’t even go skate shopping without the right socks. “Thick socks can add a full size and create sliding within the skate,” says Hineline. Robert and his wife Cathy recommend a thin men’s dress sock for skating. Knowing that my kid will never be the dork in the locker room in the black nylon socks, I suggest skate socks by Underarmour, Easton or CCM — or even the Champion athletic socks at Target. Hineline agrees these are ideal as they also draw moisture away from the foot.
Hineline warns against the old myth of skating barefoot. “The reason skates smell is that rotting skin is left behind. This gets back on the feet and causes athlete’s foot,” he says.
The easiest, and probably most pricey, thing to do is march into a hockey store, be fitted and have the skates molded there. But when working with hand-me-downs, skates at resale shops or skates bought online, you may need to check out the fit yourself. For starters:
- Bauer and Nike skates tend to be narrow.
- Easton skates are generally medium width.
- CCM skates run wide, but they also offer all widths.
Tip: Rather than taking the time to cram a kid’s feet into a bunch of skates, you can pull out the insole and let your player stand on it to check the width.
Hineline notes that getting fitted is important because, “What some people think is wide not wide at all. It’s a proportion issue.” This is why a professional fitting may pay off. You can pay $10 or so at a skate shop for a fitting and still search for skates online or at resale shops.
If you’re “buying big” for a younger player:
- If dad can slide the flat side of a finger in around the ankle, that’s the perfect amount of growing space. If you can turn your finger to the wide side, however, that’s too big. (Sorry moms, this test works best with man-size hands.)
- According to coach Rich Kennedy, buying skates a half-size larger than the current skates usually works best for 8 and under players.
Hineline notes that if the skate is too big, it will cause bone spurs, bunions and corns. (Believe me, I’ve seen this. He’s not saying it to sell more skates!) Also, if the skate fits, but a kid is complaining about the toe box, it can be stretched.
Parents may opt for used skates or hand-me-downs for the first few years of play, particularly if a player is experimenting with hockey or deciding among multiple sports. According to Hineline, after three or four years of skating, kids need the performance of skates really fitted to them. In the meantime, his top tips for checking out used skates include:
- Stitching: The stitching around the skate should be consistent; gaps indicate tears.
- Rivets: Pull out the insole and check the condition of the rivets. They are likely to be rusted, but the tangs should be there and be gripping the skate.
- Blade life: Sharpening affects the life of the blade, removing a little bit each time. If the blade is only 3/8” tall, it’s life is too short and you will need new blades.
- Chipped blades: In a recent two- to five-year span, the metal mix from some manufacturers had too much nickel, leading to chipping on the blade edges. Avoid these.
- Solid blades: A solid blade without a gap is stronger, particularly for the shorter blades Mites use.
- Screws: Look at the screws holding the blade to the skate. If the skates click when you walk, the screws need tightened.
- Remold: Used skates are molded to someone else’s feet, whether by intent or wear. Since everyone’s ankle bones are in a slightly different position, Hineline recommends that you remold used skates.
The first time you wear a new pair of skates, guess what? They’re used, too. To take care of any pair of skates, keep in mind:
- Get sharp: For new skates, the first sharpening is the most important so make sure it’s done professionally. Used skates are almost sure to need a sharpening before wear.
- Rosie rivets: Take out the insole and dab the rivets with metal paint to prevent rust and slow wear. (Hineline admits that clear nail polish will work if you don’t have time for a special run to Lowe’s or Home Depot for metal paint.)
- Guards: If the blades do not say "stainless steel," they can rust. In this case, do not use hard plastic guards. If you’re putting skates in storage for a month or so, leave the guards off regardless of the metal.
- Insoles: After every use, and particularly for storage, pull out those insoles to dry.
As a parting note, Robert and Cathy Hineline — who have no agenda as they don’t actually sell hockey skates — note that you should check over skates bought online as carefully as skates purchased in a store or purchased used. Be sure they’re in top condition before you wear them. Now get started breaking those skates in!
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kelly Kordes Anton for this story.