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A Comparative Analysis of Football and Hockey Players: Training, Energy Systems, and Performance


As most of you are aware, I am a former football player who has been working as a private sector S&C coach specializing in hockey for the past 8 years. Often I'm asked how did I end up here. I'll save that story for another day. I'm also asked quite often, what are differences in the athletes and that is what I plan on explaining in this article.


Football and hockey are two of the most popular sports in the world, each with its unique demands on athletes. Both sports require a high level of fitness, but the differences in their training regimens, energy systems used, time on the field/ice, average play vs. average shift, and player size make them distinct. In this article, we will delve into the scientific aspects of these differences, while also making the information relatable for athletes and laypeople.


Training Differences


Football players undergo rigorous strength and conditioning training to enhance their explosive power, agility, and endurance. Weightlifting, sprinting drills, and plyometrics are key components of their training routines. In contrast, hockey players focus on a combination of strength, agility, and cardiovascular conditioning. They often incorporate more endurance-based activities like skating drills, shuttle runs, and resistance training to build leg strength.


Energy Systems


The energy systems engaged during play differ significantly between the two sports. Football players primarily rely on the anaerobic system during intense bursts of activity, such as sprinting and tackling. Hockey players, on the other hand, rely more on the aerobic system due to the continuous nature of the game. Their shifts on the ice require sustained effort, with brief, high-intensity bursts.


Time on Field/Ice


Football games are divided into four quarters, each lasting around 15 minutes, resulting in an average playing time of approximately 11 minutes for each player. Hockey players, in contrast, have shorter shifts on the ice, typically ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes. This requires rapid transitions and a high degree of endurance to maintain peak performance.


Average Play vs. Average Shift


In football, each play lasts only a few seconds and is followed by a break for strategy and recovery. In hockey, players are continuously in motion during their shifts, with little downtime. This means hockey players must maintain a higher level of cardiovascular fitness and agility throughout their time on the ice.


Average Size Difference


Football players are generally larger and heavier than hockey players. The average NFL player stands around 6'2" and weighs 245 pounds, whereas NHL players are smaller, with an average height of 6'1" and weight of 202 pounds. This size difference is due to the nature of the sports; football demands more bulk and strength for tackling, while hockey relies on agility and quickness.


Examples


To illustrate these differences, let's take two athletes as examples: an NFL running back and an NHL forward.

  1. NFL Running Back:

  • Training: Focuses on building strength and power through weightlifting and sprint drills.

  • Energy Systems: Primarily utilizes the anaerobic system during short, intense bursts of activity.

  • Time on Field: On average, spends around 11 minutes on the field per game.

  • Size: Stands at 6'0" and weighs 215 pounds.

  1. NHL Forward:

  • Training: Combines strength training with agility work, including skating drills.

  • Energy Systems: Depends more on the aerobic system for sustained efforts.

  • Time on Ice: Shifts typically last 40-60 seconds, with more frequent rotations.

  • Size: Stands at 5'11" and weighs 190 pounds.



Football and hockey players are elite athletes who must excel in their respective sports by training for distinct physical demands. Understanding these differences can help athletes tailor their training programs to better suit the requirements of their chosen sport. Whether you're a fan or an athlete, recognizing the science behind these differences adds a new layer of appreciation for the athleticism displayed on the field and the ice.


References:

  1. American College of Sports Medicine. (2018). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.

  2. Bompa, T. O., & Buzzichelli, C. (2018). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Human Kinetics.

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