Four Question Friday- Joel Jackson

In week 2 of Four Question Friday we sit down with Joel Jackson of Competitive Thread to get his thoughts on early specialization, training, testing and the Alberta Golden Bears.

Joel Jackson hails from a small northern Manitoba community named Snow Lake. He grew up playing minor hockey there and then went on to play Junior A for the OCN Blizzard. He moved to Alberta in 2006 to go to school and play hockey for the Augustana Vikings in Camrose. Once his college hockey career came to an end in 2011 Joel obtained his Masters at the University of Alberta where he completed his thesis research on Time Motion Analysis and Heart Rate Response to University hockey games. He now works as a development coach/testing and research facilitator at the University of Alberta’s South Campus and handles all the strength and conditioning programming for Competitive Thread.

1.What is your take on the current trend in sports to have kids play and focus on just one sport?

A great rule of thumb here is sample early, specialize late. Often early specialization is one of the worst things a young athlete can do as it will stunt their athletic development. Fundamental movement skills (running, jumping, throwing, catching, etc.) are all developed through a rounded approach to sport and exposure to all of these skills is what teaches kids to be athletes. By teaching a kid to be an athlete first then allowing them to transition a single sport will pay off in the long run. It also helps to foster lifelong participation in sport and physical fitness. As far as an exact age for when to specialize it will depend on the individual as well as the sport in question, but when we are referring to some of the more popular team sports (basketball, hockey, football, etc.) 12-15 years of age is a good recommendation.

2.What age do you think athletes should start to look at hockey specific training in the off-season?

There are many misconceptions about “hockey specific” training or even the more general term “sport specific” training for that matter. An athlete’s transition to training that is designed with their sports demands in mind is more dependent on their training age than their experience in that sport. For example if I get a 16 year old hockey player that is among the elite of their age group, but has never touched a weight before, this player will definitely not be put on a hockey specific training program. Instead I would start them on a very general strength and conditioning program that is focussed on doing fundamental exercises well. When the athlete has developed good core strength and can squat, deadlift, press, and pull with excellent form, I would then consider implementing more of a sport specific design. We take a very similar approach to hockey skill development here at Competitive Thread, a good solid foundation is important in all aspects of an athlete’s life.

3.The conditioning of the University of Alberta Bears has been discussed as one of the contributing reasons to their success in the last few years. As their strength & conditioning coach what approach do you take to ensure the players’ fitness stays at a high level?

I want to make it clear that I only play a small part in the Golden Bears success. The culture that they have in place at the U of A is one that can’t be matched and the coaches and players embrace a style that is highlighted by relentless preparation and an unwavering commitment to success. As the strength and conditioning coach I have tried to encourage the players to use this same commitment and preparation in their off-ice training. I find that their leadership groups always play a pivotal role here by setting an example for the rookies that the expectation is to get the workouts done week in and week out. Lines of communication are also always open between the head coach and I in order to make sure that the volume and intensity of practice is well thought out and fits in at appropriate times during the week. Finally, monitoring the athletes is also an important part of the process. By getting the athletes to fill out a short questionnaire each day I can get a picture of how they are feeling and if they are over stressed. This allows myself and the rest of the coaching staff to make more informed decisions when implementing their weekly training volume and intensity. With this approach as a whole I feel the Golden Bears have consistently been one of the better conditioned CIS teams in Canada.

4. At Competitive Thread you are constantly testing athletes throughout the life of your development programs. What are the benefits of testing, maintaining and analyzing data over the course of an athletes’ development?

From a developmental standpoint consistent testing is extremely valuable because it allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of an athletes’ development. Through consistent, valid and reliable testing a profile for the athlete will emerge and the data collected can guide the coaches through each stage of the athletes’ growth. Through comparison of each athlete to their peer group a coach can see if certain individuals are excelling or lagging behind in their skill and physical development. By always having up to date testing data it also allows coaches to make informed decisions on the effectiveness of their methods. The data will either confirm what you are doing is working, or possibly steer you in another direction if plateaus or declines in certain scores arise. No matter what your sport, testing is always an effective tool to add to your coaching/training toolbox.

More on Competitive Thread

Competitive Thread is located in Sherwood Park, Alberta and is Western Canada’s leader in athlete testing and hockey development. They have worked with teams and athletes in the National Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League and Minor Hockey teams and players across Western Canada. They take a holistic and balanced approach to development and aim to positively contribute to the individual growth of each athlete both on and off the ice. For more information visit or call us at 780-267-5795