Players typically fall into 1 of 4 categories:
1) They don’t stretch.
Girls’ hockey players are naturally more flexible than boys. But this does not mean that they are exempt from stretching. Even the most flexible athletes in the world still stretch. Stretching is a critical component of all-around fitness and neglecting this component can lead to injuries in both the short and long term.
2) They do the stretches wrong
Most young players are never taught how to stretch properly.
Holding a stretch for only 10 or 15 seconds doesn’t actually relax the muscle – it actually makes it tighter!
Most players spend 10 seconds trying to force themselves into a uncomfortable position instead of relaxing into a proper stretch.
Stretching is NOT a competitive sport. You aren’t trying to outdo your teammate or stretch the farthest you’ve ever stretched each time. The goal is to maximize the effects for your body on that given day. You just want to go to the point where you feel a comfortable and sustainable stretch. A good guideline is that players should be able to hold the stretch comfortably for between 1-2 minutes. If they are straining and struggling after 20 seconds, they have gone too far.
3) They do the wrong stretches
Most young players spend the majority of their stretching time focusing on muscles that are already loose!
A player who has excellent flexibility in her hamstrings is more likely to spend time stretching these muscles rather than focusing on her tight quadriceps muscles.
Why would she do this?
Because it is easier.
Most players want to avoid pain. Players are much less likely to spend their stretching time performing more difficult and painful stretches. If she finds the hamstring stretch quite comfortable, she will likely stay away from the more ‘painful’ quadriceps stretches that she desperately needs.
4) They stretch at the wrong time
A great number of teams and players do static (stationary) stretching as part of their warm-up routines – and this is probably the worst time to static stretch! Players muscles’ need to be maximally activated before heading out on the ice – and static stretching relaxes the muscles. Static stretching is great, but it should be left for after the training session.
Now that the off-season is upon us, it is a terrific time for girls to address the tightness issues that are common to most players. There are 9 main muscle groups that young hockey players should stretch in order to maximize their performance and decrease their chance of injury.
Here is a list of the muscles players MUST stretch (in decreasing order of importance):
1) Hip Flexors
6) Low Back
That may seem like a lot. But if players devote 1 minute per day to stretching each of these muscles, they can be done in less than 20 minutes. And truth be told, even if they can only spend 5 minutes focusing on stretching the first three muscle groups in the list properly, they will be miles ahead of players who are not stretching at all!
Stretching is a key component of athletic performance and cannot be neglected. Any player looking to take their game to the next level must make proper and targeted stretching a part of their daily training routine.
Work Hard. Dream BIG.
Your friend and coach,