Over the past year, I had the opportunity to attend a Challenge Cup Event where players from the National Ringette League could attend a training and identification camp hosted by Team Canada coaches and associates. My role was that of “apprentice coach” where I was involved in working with the athletes during games, and attending class room sessions hosted by the Strength and Conditioning Coach, the Mental Skills Coach and the Nutrition Coach.
Here are some take home notes I made after watching the fitness testing, the ringette games, and attending the class room sessions on fitness.
Key lessons learned:
- The types of tests and the standards expected of elite ringette athletes
- The types of strength and conditioning programs prescribed for ringette athletes
- The lack of knowledge by ringette players about strength and conditioning practices
- The lofty expectations of strength and conditioning coaches towards athletes
- The high percentage of athletes who are NOT following any conditioning program
- The lack of access to local strength and conditioning coaches by athletes
In short, fitness testing for these national calibre athletes involved aerobic (BEEP test), speed and agility, power and strength.
When you watch a ringette player with a score of 13 on the BEEP test skate during a game, they are tireless. When you see one who got 5 on the BEEP test, you notice they labour and cannot keep up with the play. And, Team Canada expects players to get 10 on the BEEP test. So, not everyone needs a score of 13 or higher. One of the highest BEEP scores achieved by a female athlete was a score of 15 recorded by a member of the New Zealand Field Hockey team.
So, coach… the ring is on your stick… if you have access to the BEEP test, it could help you assess and educate your athletes about the link between cardio conditioning and ringette playing performance.
This brings us to the focus of this article.
The Youldon Group has been experimenting with fitness testing and ringette players for many years. We have learned that players hate fitness testing and they hate running even more. So, what to do?
Try our easy to do, time efficient and standardized “3 Sprint Skating Test” to assess cardio fitness for ringette.
Here is the quick background. There is considerable kinesiology literature about skating tests for hockey players. And, given the similarity between skating for hockey and ringette, I borrowed what made sense. One of the original tests included 6 maximal sprints of about 15 seconds with each sprint starting every 30 seconds. Many coaches found this method was too strenuous and it only infuriated the athletes – and, we cannot have that, now can we? So, some thoughtful folks decided that 4 is better; and the literature is also full of these 4 skate repeat tests, including data on elite Swedish women’s ice hockey players. After my own trial and error with real ringette players and some number crunching, I found that using a test of 3 repeats begins to separate the fit from the “less fit.” And, adding the extra sprint (4) after the third offered little in ranking the players and showing who is fit. And, given the time on the ice, less is better; allowing more time for Ringette specific stuff. And, the players appreciate it. So, 3 sprints it is.
The literature also shows a strong relationship between these on-ice repeated skating sprints and other traditional tests of cardio (BEEP, Treadmill and bike tests).
What is the real value? What is the big deal? Well, ringette players need to understand that coaches may have minimal standards and expectations. And, they need to learn about themselves and decide what level of play is best for their talent and fitness levels. And, if they need to improve their fitness, what training needs to be undertaken. It is all about development…
Full confession. I am an educator. I prefer development over brash victory. Hey, winning games is the aim and I pursue this with passion. But players need leadership, coaching and my job is to provide that guidance. And, fitness is no different. My view is that most ringette players have no idea how to train off-ice and what it means to develop sustainable life habits that integrate regular and vigorous physical activity.
See the graphic below to see the pattern skated by the skaters.
Supply recording sheets, clip boards, pencils, and stop watches for timers who record each sprint and must be ready for Sprint # 2 and Sprint # 3.
Assign 1 timer to each lane; if you have 6 helpers; then you can run 6 lanes up the ice; with 12 skaters, the entire session is completed in 4 minutes; with 4 helpers, run 3 groups and it will end in 6 minutes.
See the following graphic that shows how the process works. Sprints start at 0, 30, and 60 seconds. If a player covers the pattern in 10 seconds she gets 20 seconds recovery before the second sprint. Alternatively, if she skates the pattern in 20 seconds, she only gets 10 seconds of recovery. There is NO set recovery time between sets.
.Players are told that it is a MAXIMAL effort. It is normal to slow down from Sprint 1 to Sprint 3. If you find that a player speeds up from the first to the third sprint, they are not going at a maximal effort. Have them re-take the test at a future date.
Note: going in groups of 4 to 6 will encourage effort and make it more competitive and FUN for the players.
The following bar graph shows the average times for 50 players we tested. These players were from Junior (U16) competitive tryouts and players in the National Ringette League (NRL) from 2 different teams. Our data is consistent with other published literature on female skaters using this test. This data did NOT include goal tenders, who can do the test, but their results differ from skaters, hence we removed their scores.
The NRL players recorded a total time of the 3 sprints (sprint 1 + sprint 2 + sprint 3) of 46.4 seconds, while the U16 players recorded a time of 49.1 seconds. However, some of the U16 players outperformed NRL players.
We also note that the average drop in time was 15 % from the first to the third sprint.
The following graphic shows the rankings we created based on the 50 players we tested. We divided the sample into 4 groups based on top 20 %, bottom 20 %, and 30 % above the mid-point, and 30 % below the mid-point. The excellent category is the top 20 %, and the fair category is the bottom 20 %. The graphic shows that 47.5 seconds was the average (mid-point) and a typical score for this group of 50 players.
We also found a relationship (correlation) between how players performed on this test and their level of physical activity as measured by a questionnaire (The International Physical Activity Questionnaire – IPAQ). We will discuss this tool in another Youldon Group post. We have also used other self-directed off season fitness logs for players to educate them and encourage them to adopt fitness as part of their ringette lifestyle. Again, we will cover this in a future post. Be sure to check it out.
Practical Application for Coaches:
Try this with your team and create your own rankings and standards. A U14 team will not perform as well as the players in this study.
Do the testing at the beginning, mid-point and end of the season.
Use the data to help you understand your players and help them understand the value of fitness for ringette performance.
Build the group results, and the nature of the test (3 x 13 to 20 second sprints) into your class room briefing to the players about fitness, health, performance and ringette.
Keep the data to yourself, as a part of your personal coaching file, use it for feedback to players on a one-on-one basis.
Show the team the group results and try to show improvements over the course of the season, based on your training program.