I’m not so sure I should even attempt at writing this article. Those who’ve read my book “Journeyman” know the mental part of my game was…um…uh…lacking. But enough about me, this is about you guys!
As I look back at my minor hockey days, there are a few things that stand out that may assist you in developing your mental side of the game. One of the most important parts of the game is how you prepare before you even step out on the ice. Obviously there’s the physical work that needs to happen, but today I’d like to talk about the mental side.
We’ve all heard about sports “visualization.” It’s the technique of using your imagination to visualize specific behaviours or events. Let me tell you, it works! If you walk yourself through certain on-ice situations before they happen and then visualize exactly how you want to react to those situations, you’ll be much better prepared or more likely to make the correct decision or play “in the moment,” which is where you want your focus.
Truth be told, I never did much “mental prep” when I was a young minor hockey player. Back in those days, it was just becoming popular. I adopted the mental training side of the game when I started playing college hockey. I wish someone had told me about it sooner. It is invaluable and doesn’t take much time or effort. It just takes a little discipline and consistency to make it a habit. Just like you might tape your stick before every game, mental preparation should become part of your pre-game routine.
A lot of people think hockey players are superstitious. In some cases that’s true. However, I would argue that what might look like a superstition is really a player going through his/her pre-game routine. In order to play at a high level consistently, you need to develop consistent habits — much like forwards need to learn to stop in front of the net after taking a shot on goal. It’s all about developing good habits so the right plays become part of your “hockey DNA.”
Your routine could start the night before with a certain bedtime ritual (i.e. reading, having a cup of tea, meditating, etc.) or it may not begin until you get to the rink. Some players like to tape their sticks at a certain time or stretch at a certain time. While going through your routine (whatever it may be), visualize how you will react to certain scenarios/plays/challenges during the game.
One of my routines when I played in Columbus involved Tyler Wright. I would always arrive two-and-a-half hours before the game. He would always bring me a coffee and bagel (thankfully, they had Tim Hortons near his house and he paid). We would go over the stats of the team we were playing. After 15 minutes of coffee talk, he would move onto his next routine and I would move on to mine. We did this before every game. The funny thing was that we never planned this part of our routine. I never said: “Tyler, I’ll meet you at the rink two-and-a-half hours before the game.” It evolved over time because we would always be the first ones at the rink. I saw him with the coffee and the next thing I knew he was bringing me one and we would have our 15 minute coffee talk about the players on the other team.
Developing good habits leads to building confidence. It will allow you to feel more prepared to handle what happens on the ice. The game of hockey is extremely fluid and things happen at light speed. If you can give yourself an edge by visualizing what may happen before it does, you’ll react that much quicker and be in a better position to make the right play.
The more times you can make the right play, the more ice time you’ll get. And, as we all know, the more ice time you get, the more fun you’ll have. The more fun you have, the better you will play and so on!
So, before your next game, take five minutes to visualize what you want to do on the ice. Remember to be specific. If you’re a centerman, think of how you plan to take a face-off. If you’re a defenseman think of how you’re going to make the breakout pass when you come around your net.