Game Ready — Understanding motivation and the relationship between player mindset and ability

Another hockey season is upon us, and I’m sure parents and players have entered it with feelings of both excitement and anxiousness. As a strength and conditioning coach who is dedicated to developing young athletes for long-term success, I’m often asked by parents about the best ways to prepare and motivate young hockey players for the upcoming hockey season.

There are many considerations that come into play when getting ready for the mental and physical demands of hockey’s months of hectic game schedules and heavy competition. Some parents are surprised to hear that I believe preparation starts as soon as the previous season ends — however, it’s not usually what they think.

In addition to association hockey, a lot of hockey players today also play spring hockey, so I believe good preparation for the fall season starts by simply taking off the skates once the spring season is over. It’s healthy for kids to take the summer to relax and spend time with friends and family. Remember, kids won’t forget how to skate or take a slapshot, so take a break and work on building a strong support system for your kid(s) with family bonding activities, such as camping, fishing or hiking. While the skates are off, kids can also get involved in a good dryland training program that is designed for long-term athletic development. Improving one’s athletic skills with an off-season strength and conditioning program will help players be more than ready and prepared for on-ice performance come the fall.

Surprisingly, one of the best ways to get ready for a new hockey season is not just preparing the body but conditioning the mind, through inspiring reading. I highly recommend that all parents encourage their kid(s) to pick up a book that is an easy read and is authored by someone they can relate to, such as their favourite hockey player, past or present. Some of these biographical books by sports icons are incredibly inspiring, and they can change the mindset of a young player by boosting confidence and self-esteem.

Motivation, of course, is a key component to getting ready to compete, but I think this area leaves most parents — and even some coaches — confused as to how to go about it. First, it’s important to understand the relationship between your player’s mindset and ability level. By doing so, you and your child’s coach will be able to find creative ways to bring out the best in him or her and, in turn, your player will discover his or her true potential — and that’s some serious motivation!

Below are the four player mindset/ability combinations, as well as a few tips on how to motivate for each combination.

1. High Skill/High Motivation — This is where we want all our kids to be eventually, but how to get here is the key. These kids don’t usually require a lot of outside motivation and seem to have that “natural talent.” The best approach to dealing with this type of young athlete is simply to delegate tasks to them. Just tell them and show them what to do, and they’ll go do it on their own and do it well.

2. High Skill/Low Motivation — These kids are often misunderstood, because we can’t figure out how a young athlete can have so much athletic potential but seem not to care about the game. Regardless of how good they are, they could have low self-esteem, lack confidence or, perhaps for one reason or another, they are simply not inspired by the game. Sometimes, this is because they are feeling too much pressure or aren’t having any fun. To help them realize their unlimited potential for greatness, this kind of young athlete needs to be “inspired” versus being told over and over what to do. The trick is finding out what it is that inspires him or her.

3. Low Skill/High Motivation — These kids are the ones we love to watch most because they just go-go-go, but they don’t necessarily have all the physical athletic tools to compete at a high level. But there is nothing stopping them from trying, and we simply have to guide them along the way and help provide the necessary tools to develop higher skills.

4. Low Skill/Low Motivation — These kids break our hearts when we see that they aren’t the best athletes out there and lack the motivation to even continue participating in a sport. It is very, very important to direct these kids and give them lots of support. We must help them believe in themselves and in their abilities to become the best they can possibly be.

Good luck to all hockey families this year and remember: Success in athletics — and in life — is measured by doing the best we can possibly do and being the best we can possibly be.

By Mike Pickles, CPT, D.FHP — Founder, MyAthletic Performance 

About The Author

Mike Pickles, CPT, D.FHP, Founder, Dry-land Hockey Training
Mike is the Founder of Dry-land Hockey Training and Creator of Explosive Hockey Speed. He's a top Strength Coach in the South Surrey area of British Columbia and has rapidly established himself as a leader in the community for specializing in off-ice hockey development. Mike prepares high level players in the off-season at the Major Midget and Junior level getting them ready for the CHL and NCAA. Mike is also a presenter and speaker on High Performance Hockey and in his spare time helps with the WHL Combine testing for the Okanagan Hockey Group. CONTINUE.