On the surface, the Anaheim Ducks’ lineup might resemble the rosters of other professional hockey teams: athletes who possess great speed and agility, can withstand high-velocity collisions, and perform repeatedly at high exertion levels with limited rest in between games.
But unlike other teams, the Ducks have HHD’s Center for Sport Performance (CSP) to help keep them at the top of their game.
For the last three years, the CSP has conducted pre-season fitness testing on the Ducks’ star athletes and development camp players competing for a spot on the team. HHD professor and CSP co-director Dr. Scott Lynn compiles the results and, together with Ducks Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Fitzgerald, creates individual training programs for each player.
The goal of the testing? Improve the Ducks’ chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup by helping players perform at their peak and stay safe on the ice.
“Each player has a different job to do. Players are unique in terms of their movement patterns, so you need to train them differently. We’re using the CSP’s research tools to evaluate the players and help make them better athletes,” says Lynn.
Fitzgerald is in his third season as the Ducks’ head strength and conditioning coach. In addition to his work with the Ducks, Fitzgerald lends his expertise in high-performance training to the National Hockey League’s strength and conditioning association.
He’s also a graduate student in HHD’s kinesiology program.
“As a coach, I don't want to run around with a stopwatch and a clipboard. I want to look at the data and get clear, concise answers to our management about a player's ability to perform. Partnering with the Center for Sport Performance removes excuses and mistakes. The access to equipment and brains that we have over there is phenomenal,” says Fitzgerald.
“The players are in to the data too,” he continues. “Younger athletes that are coming up, all they want to see is stats. They want to see how they did, how they compare to their peers, what their test was before compared to now. They're über competitive, so they love that information.”
The Ducks’ pre-season testing begins in the CSP’s Human Performance laboratory. There, players step into the lab’s Bod Pod, a sleek, space capsule-shaped contraption that utilizes air displacement technology to measure body fat and lean mass percentages. Once body composition and height and weight measurements are recorded, players are escorted to the CSP’s biomechanics lab for a series of performance assessments designed to measure strength and endurance, including grip strength, pull-ups, and vertical jump tests.
Because contact sports like hockey can cause injuries that lead to compensatory movement patterns, players go through the CSP’s Functional Movement Screen, seven exercises that spot injury risk or reduced performance from imbalances in mobility and stability. Next, players power through a 40 yard sprint and directional change tests that asses speed and agility, key skills for athletes that regularly pivot and dart across the ice. Players complete plank exercises before closing the day at the Wingate test, a grueling, high-intensity screen that measures anaerobic power using stationary bikes equipped with wind resistance.
Testing is performed by graduate students in HHD’s kinesiology program under faculty supervision.
Kinesiology alumna and HHD lecturer Whitney Leyva has worked with the Ducks in both capacities. As a student, Leyva escorted players from station to station before leading strength and agility tests during her graduate years. Today, Leyva oversees a team of students running the CSP’s Wingate test. She’s also the strength and conditioning coach for Cal State Fullerton’s Cheer and Dance team.
“My student experience with the Ducks really taught me, hands-on, why testing is important for athletes. It’s really fulfilling to expose students to this opportunity. I’m helping my students in the way my mentors in HHD’s kinesiology department helped me,” she says.
Founded by retired kinesiology professor Dr. Lee Brown, the CSP is a collection of research laboratories dedicated to exploring the science that powers sport performance. Research findings are published in scholarly journals or shared directly with coaches who work with top athletes in hockey, golf, and other competitive sports.
CSP co-directors hope to expand the CSP’s services.
“Our long-term vision for the Center is to create a facility that houses all of our laboratories under one roof. A place where amateur and professional athletes can come and get tested, trained, and treated with the top equipment and experts in the world,” says Lynn.