As the 2020-21 hockey season approaches and the 2022 Olympic Winter Games less than two years away, the U.S. Women’s National Team Program is not wasting any time improving and dialing in their training methods. For four nights last week, the current player pool spent two hours together, virtually, each evening to learn from and engage with the team’s coaches, trainers and staff. Each session covered different elements on developing as an athlete and as a teammate on the ice.
The week’s virtual meetings kicked off Monday night with Bob Corkum, head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. He started with a presentation breaking down the fundamentals and foundation of the team’s overall strategy. It was refresher for many, and for others it offered a new insight into the program.
“This is something we are going to build on for everything that we do from here on out, right towards the Olympics,” said Corkum. “When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re doing these things instinctively.”
From there, the athletes were split into eight groups for 20 minutes to review video footage. Corkum had them analyze the gripping 2020 Rivalry Series game, a home-ice, overtime win against Canada earlier this year in Anaheim, Calif. Once back on the main call, each group took turns and explained what went right or wrong during a play of their choice.
Tuesday night’s call was led by Dr. Tiff Jones, the team’s mental skills coach. Prior to the call, Jones had the athletes watch a series of videos explaining topics such as mentality zones and behavioral styles. During the session, Jones split the athletes into smaller groups to discuss these topics so they could get accustomed to discussing such subjects together. They returned to the main call to ask more in-depth questions and continue the conversation with Jones.
The call turned competitive when Jones had the athletes complete an exercise to help remain present during moments of pressure. Two times through, Jones quickly flashed a name of a color in a different colored font on the screen. They each had to remember the color of the font as well as the order it was shown, but not the actual word. No one was allowed to take notes throughout the exercise. They then returned to their small groups to try and piece together the exact sequence. Every single group relayed back the correct order of the colored fonts.
Alex Rigsby, Savannah Harmon, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Jesse Compher back on the ice together.
On Wednesday night, the topics for discussion were health, wellness and nutrition. Dr. Ally Howe, the team doctor, started the call with a variety of subjects about wellness, but the main focus of her presentation was how to optimize sleep. She gave pointers to the athletes on how to get better rest, including sleeping in cooler temperatures, eliminating light and not using electronic devices too close to bedtime. Howe also explained why sleep is extremely important for athletes as it is a time for the body to rebuild muscle.
“Sleep is the single most important recovery tool that you have,” said Howe. “The three pillars of athleticism are diet, exercise and sleep. If you are not taking care of all three, you are not actually meeting your full potential.”
Gears switched to nutrition when Carrie Aprik and Shelly Johnson, the team nutritionists, took over. Their presentation began with guidance on how to determine protein intake, protein sources and timing for peak recovery. Aprik and Johnson then turned the call into a live cooking class, showing the athletes how to make a well-balanced buddha bowl. Since neither were physically together, they each made a variation of the meal. It’s safe to say everyone’s stomachs were growling at the sight of the finished dish.
Cal Dietz, the team’s head strength and conditioning coach, wrapped up the week on Thursday night with guidance on structuring athlete training programs and also sharing the in-person testing athletes will go through later this season. He also recommended exercises to include in their training focused on reducing injury risk. The suggestions stemmed from compensation patterns he’s observed as aftereffects of increased sedentary time in quarantine.
“It was a very productive four days,” said Katie Million, director of women’s national team programs for USA Hockey. “While we’re all navigating through some uncertain times, it’s an exciting time as we continue to build toward the 2022 Winter Olympics.”