Balance: The Foundation of Agility

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 The most important aspect of agility for hockey players is the ability to maintain balance, according to Paul Goodman, strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. That's why training balance during the off-season should be the first piece of the puzzle for on-ice agility development.

"If you can become more balanced off the ice, you'll become more balanced on the ice," Goodman says. "And that makes you more efficient on your feet and less prone to injury."

Defenseman Duncan Keith (pictured) is living proof. The 'Hawks assistant captain led the team in ice time for the fourth consecutive season, averaging more than 25 minutes per game while juggling time on both the power play and penalty kill. "The good thing about Keith is that he's tough to hit," Goodman says. "He's just constantly moving."

Below are two exercises the 'Hawks perform during the off-season to improve their balance. With the proper equipment, you can easily add these drills to your routine.

Single Leg Balance on Bosu with Eyes Closed
• Place foot in middle of Bosu with round side up
• Maintain balance on left leg with right leg off to the side
• Once body is stable, close eyes
• Perform on opposite leg

Sets/Reps: 2-3x30 seconds each leg
Coaching Points: Focus on a point to maintain stability // Use non-working leg to counterbalance momentum of instability // If you must open your eyes to regain focus, close them again immediately
Goodman: "What we do to improve balance is put the athlete in compromising situations off the ice. You're much more stable when your eyes are open. There's a lot of coordination and stabilizing that goes on in the hips, knees, ankles and core with this exercise. The same exact movements it takes for your body to readjust and re-stabilize itself [on the Bosu] will be the same movements once the skates are on."

Multi-Focus Bosu Balance with Soccer Ball
• Place foot in middle of Bosu with round side up
• Maintain balance on left leg with right left off to the side
• Coach tosses soccer ball toward foot off Bosu
• Kick ball back toward coach

Sets/Reps: 2x10 each leg
Coaching Points: Keep eyes open throughout drill // Maintain stable position before ball is tossed // Increase difficulty by having ball tossed at a wider range
Goodman: "In hockey, your focus is not close to your center of gravity; the play is several feet away from you. Whether the puck moves off to the side or you get checked or are forced to change direction, there's a lot of room for you to become unstable very quickly. All of those factors can lead to an unbalanced state."

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock