Although there are still some athletes who have been with one team throughout the course of their career, most players in the case of professional hockey have played with or will play for several teams. This is due to a system that includes trades and free agency while teams try to improve their rosters under a salary cap to remain or to be more competitive.
When a new player joins the organization, there are many factors to consider.
From a strength and conditioning perspective, there are times when a new players' individual strength and conditioning program (which they have instituted since the start of their career), may not initially be in sync with the strength and conditioning program of the team. From the athletes' perspective, they are used to doing things a certain way. They may have worked with a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach during the off seasons that they trust and they may have their own routines ingrained in them as they continue to play the game at the highest level.
For the strength and conditioning coach who works for team, they have a system in place that they feel is successful for their environment. I am not advocating being closed- minded, but the strength and conditioning coach needs to lead the program through their vision to help the team succeed. Having some players simply do whatever they want isn't a good program. I believe it is the strength and conditioning coach's responsibility to ensure that all players are involved in the program. The strength and conditioning coach needs to help facilitate what the teams' and the player's needs and wants are from an overall cultural perspective.
I have always embraced opportunities to work with new players so I can get to know them as people and athletes.
The key has always been to find common ground. Sure, there have been a few times when it has been difficult. This would include veteran players who have their own ideas. Fortunately, these players may have only been with the team I was working with for a short period of time. As I reflect back on my younger self, I could have been more open minded in some cases. Usually though, I've always taken a positive approach and realize 1- they enjoy the training process and 2- they don't want to be a distraction to the team. In my opinion, individual players who are good people and teammates don't want to be a distraction to the team.
Some concepts that have worked for me in ensuring that our strength and conditioning program has been consistent from a team perspective include-
- Get the captain on board. In my experience, the captain needs to be in your corner. They also appreciate having the ability to have truthful conversations and having some say in the plan. The captain is the leader of the group. They are the avenue for getting more out of the rest of the team. It is a lot easier when the captain really enjoys the training process.
- Get to know the players. Find common ground, build trust and be their friend. However, always be their strength and conditioning coach. I think that is important to note because you work FOR the team. You work WITH the players. You need to hold players accountable without throwing them under the bus. This takes time but can happen quickly when you show them that you care.
- Work with players who have their own ideas. For example, although I don't use the back squat for most of the team, I do have a few who like the exercise. I am ok with this because as mentioned before, they have probably been doing the exercise for a long period of time. I am not going to change what a veteran player is doing for an exercise that they believe in anddd want to do. If the form is good and the load is appropriate- great. Also- in the case of the back squat, these have been mostly European players. In their situations, know pounds to kilogram conversions. They understand kilograms and appreciate it when you do as well. For them 60 kg vs 135 lbs, 80kg vs 185lbs, 100kg vs 225lbs, etc.
- Utilize regressions or lateralizations when necessary due to injuries or modifications. To me, this is important from and individualized program perspective. I have always believed in designing a program with the entire team in mind. However, changes are necessary when appropriate.
From what I mentioned previously, having personal relationships with your athletes is the most important aspect. The longer that I have been doing this, I realize that our training program has always remained simple.
I would rather have a simple program that I know all of our players will do versus a program that can be too complicated.
The in-season period presents itself with many challenges. Not every player necessarily wants to train, but for the most part, they understand why they need to. Without personal relationships, you will not be able to operate the strength and conditioning program to its fullest capabilities.
I believe that getting your athletes to do what you would like them to do is a skill. At the professional level, you don't have the iron fist like you do in the collegiate setting. You need to get to know all of your athletes- including new players and those that have been on your team a long time.