The Marines of Recruiting Substation Dupage South in Chicago’s western suburbs bring “hockey bootcamp” to the Thursday off-ice practices of the Naperville North junior varsity hockey team.
Nicknamed “hockey bootcamp” by the parents who observe the practices, the training session integrates Marine-style training and motivation with hockey-specific endurance and strength exercises.
“Parents tell me they think what we do for the team is unbelievable and the reason the team has done better since we started running what the parents call ‘hockey bootcamp,’” said Gunnery Sgt. Larry S. Pyles, RSS Dupage South SNCOIC.
What the Marines do for the team is guide an intense workout that emphasizes playing as a team, dedication, and endurance.
“What do we play to?” the Marines ask the team. “The buzzer!!” is the reply. “Double time!” “Move it! Only as fast as your slowest man!” “Too slow. Get back. Get back” “Wanna take your time? We’ll never get out of the locker room,” the Marine recruiters bellow encouragement as the team pours out of the locker room having just completed their on-ice practice at the All Seasons ice rink in Aurora, Ill. The Marines designed and implemented an off-ice workout that emphasizes upper body strength and teamwork to compliment the strategy, techniques, and lower body strength gained through the on-ice sessions.
“We bring variety to the kids’ training,” said Pyles. “They skate so much that it is essential we focus the off-ice training on not only different muscles, but different elements of playing as a team.”
Having rushed the team out of the locker room, the Marines have the athletes position their bodies to ‘build a house’ and work through a host of predominantly upper body exercises. The exercises that demand teamwork and emphasize the team is only as strong as its weakest player. The team members push each other through flak jacket pull-ups, endless crunches with sticks held in outstretched hands, and wall sits. Each exercise features a member of the team moving his fellow players from starting position to exercise and counting each repetition. The loudest one on the floor is Abby Miller, 15 years old and one of only two girls on the team. Her motivation for being the loudest? She doesn’t want to have to start the exercise over.
“I think the biggest improvement I’ve seen is in our transitions,” Miller said of the effects of the off-ice workouts on the team’s on-ice performance. “We transition a lot faster on the ice and we are learning to rely on each other more.”
The parents of these athletes cringe a little as they watch scowling Marines point and yell at the players, but everyone says afterwards it’s the best thing that could have happened for the team and is even a little fun.
“It’s unbelievable what the Marines have done for the team,” said Brenda Willer, mother of team member Daniel Willer, 14. “They teach them teamwork in some way in every activity. And we’re (moms) not really cringing – okay, maybe a little healthy cringing, but in the end we enjoy watching.”
Willer’s son added, “The team always plays better after these sessions.”
All of the parents on the sidelines said the first time they watched the Marine-led off-ice session they were nervous and uncomfortable with the intensity and screaming and the obvious nervousness expressed by their children. But now the parents see a “definite improvement” in the attitude of the team.
“They seem to listen to each other better and they have definitely got a better sense of what it means to be a team player,” said Jack Code, father of team member Danny Moir, 15. “The players leave smiling and some have been inspired to considered the military for their future.”
According to Pyles, the interest in the Marine Corps is more a nice extra than the primary reason he brings out his team every Thursday. “The biggest value to us is community involvement and building positive awareness. When these kids go back to school they spread the good word about the Marines. This type of activity removes the mystique. It shows we are approachable. It shows we know what we’re doing when it comes to physical training. There’s a lot more to a Marine than bullets and aggression – this is one way to let our community know that.”
The athletes and the community aren’t the only ones who benefit from the weekly training sessions.
“The recruiters get a chance to unwind, and a chance to feel good about helping out. They can see the results of putting in their time when they see the team winning,” said Pyles.
Pyles notes three key rewards gained by the team through the Marine training sessions – cohesiveness, camaraderie, and leadership skills – and one elemental mantra, “What’s it take to win?” “One puck!” What does it take to get there?” “One team!”
These lessons learned are reflected in the team’s improving record. The Huskies took first in the Metro West High School hockey league, second in a Michigan high school hockey tournament, and First in a Montini High School hockey tournament.