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Are You Training Your Hockey Mind?


About 24 months ago, we got a call from a concerned Dad about his teenage elite hockey player. There were fundamental problems with the two critical keys of high-performance - enjoyment and achievement. Both were missing. No fun and no results.

His son had become frustrated with the sport, it was a chore going to the rink, games were filled with anxiety, confidence was low and results were negligible. The drama around the sport was also becoming negative with the impacts of some unprofessional coaching, social media, and the burden of expectations. It was time to either quit and find something else to do ... or do something about it.

Fast forward 24 months after a mental/ emotional development process that developed the critical skills the young hockey players needed to both achieve his targets, add great value to the team and have fun playing hockey again ...

From Dad ... "I can't believe the turnaround and the change in attitude from not wanting to go to the rink to now putting everything he's got into hockey. His goal of playing in college is now achieved and he made the all-rookie team and is dominating on the ice."

Mental/ Emotional High-Performance Development Can Be the Difference in Your Hockey Career

kids on synthetic ice

I have the wonderful privilege of working with some of the world's leading athletes in many different sports (including the National Hockey League). These athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to training and performance. They understand that performance starts in the mind - so building their mental and emotional muscles is a priority toward maximizing their abilities. Spending equal time on all the key areas of performance enables them to have a healthy, proactive approach to their sport.

In an athlete performance model - there are four key areas:

Technical - your skill development - fundamentals

Physical - physical development to support your technical skills

Strategic - hockey sense and understanding how to play the game

Mental/ Emotional - critical fundamentals and tools that drive the physical performance

It has been my experience in the sport of hockey that with the emphasis on year-round training and complete commitment to bigger, faster, stronger physical development, the training of the player's mind is secondary. The lack of training in the mental/emotional component inhibits the player from truly bringing maximum value to their own game and the game of the team. The player does not truly develop into a happy, healthy athlete.

The traditional nature of the hockey culture has created an environment of late adoption to new approaches compared to other sports. Players and coaches have not embraced the exponential benefits of mental and emotional high-performance development. Non-stop technical and physical training has been the priority with the hockey mind far behind.

This late adoption is potentially being fuelled by some myths about the area of performance that is maybe not completely understood. These myths may be ultimately holding players back from progress in the quest to reach their potential and fully maximize their experience in the sport.

A Few Myths that Might Be Holding Your Playing Back

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I'd like to dispel a few myths that may cause you to hesitate and prevent you from working on developing your mental & emotional muscles - and ultimately preclude you from being the best player you can be ...

Myth: There is something wrong with me if I need to work on mental/emotional skills in my sport.

Fact: Mental and emotional high-performance development in sport is not about fixing an athlete. It is completely about developing skills that are required to maximize abilities. It is an educational process. Like building your technical, physical and strategic skills each day, the same effort must be made to develop the mental and emotional aspect.

Myth: Mental and emotional high-performance training is for athletes who are mentally weak.

Fact: Mental and emotional training is for all athletes. Any athlete, at any level should be developing the skills that more fully allow them to express their technical and physical training. Consider that every great athlete is coached - no matter what level. Why? So they can continue to improve and insure sustainability and consistency.

Myth: Mental and Emotional high-performance development is only for elite players.

Fact: Any level of hockey or age can benefit from mental & emotional high-performance development. Parents and coaches can also benefit. Not only will mental & emotional high-performance development help you on the ice - but the skills are highly transferable to all areas of life like school, business, leadership and relationships. Myth: Mental & emotional training is a quick fix and a short-term thing.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is a process to build independence and confidence in the client athlete. Like any skill, it takes time and repetition to build competency and confidence. Tricks and tips never work. Mastery of mental/ emotional fundamentals and a great process does.

Myth: Mental & emotional training is too much like therapy, lying on a couch talking about my feelings.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is about high performance and developing performance skills. A great performance expert has a defined, quantifiable process that includes assessment, building detailed plans, communicating with coaches and using the latest technologies to help the hockey athlete improve. The work is done through conversation, watching, reviewing and planning at a convenient location or at the rink.

Why Mental/ Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You

kid wearing home made helmet

Forward thinking NHL executives like Brad Treliving understand the benefits of mental/ emotional high-performance development and that it's the next frontier in hockey. His club is looking for players, in environments like the NHL combine, that have both physical and mental/ emotional capabilities ...

"The mental aspect of the sport is 90 percent of it," says Treliving. "Physical deficiencies can be addressed," but he indicates mental skills can't be so easily tweaked.

Players in the future will need a strong mental & emotional framework as hockey catches up to other sports and places more emphasis on what's under the helmet.

Here are a just a few benefits of mental/emotional high-performance development that you might not have considered:

  1. Building self-awareness. Working with the world's leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that 8/10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a hockey player to maximize abilities. Development of self-awareness through hockey will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.
  2. Building confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will insure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the ice!
  3. A clear path forward. A detailed, concise athlete plan is required including a vision for your hockey career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most athletes have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets and therefore most often get lost along the way and don't reach targets.
  4. Awareness and regulation of emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high-performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.
  5. Building focus. We live in a world of distraction - phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to centre the focus on what's important. Mental/emotional high-performance development builds a new level of focus.
  6. Insuring enjoyment. The ultimate result of your hockey career is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that do not enable them to enjoy the sport.

So, what are you waiting for?

There are hockey players all over the world who have technical and physical talent - but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like players in the NHL who are now embracing mental & emotional development, building their mental & emotional muscles and achieving more.

I encourage you to be an early adopter and take the next step to maximize your hockey abilities - and more fully enjoy the sport you love. Be proactive and don't wait for issues to arise. Take a developmental stance and build the skills to maximize your abilities and gain an edge over your competition. And, as a major added benefit, you'll take these skills and become a high performer in everything you do!