It’s not how fast you skate or how hard you shoot. Hockey is a mental game.
By Lindsay Eastwood
People often believe that one’s ability to play hockey is simply how fast you can skate or how hard you can shoot the puck. Hockey however has many more aspects to it, including the mental game.
Having played hockey since the age of six, the way I train for the game has changed and developed over the years. At first I started out simply just by learning: I learned how to skate, how to shoot, and the rules of the game. Once I learned the game I practiced to enhance those skills and of course have fun playing. As I got older, I took my training off the ice as well. I worked out in the gym to get stronger and sprinted on the track to get faster. Hockey became something I wanted to be the best at and wanted to take to the next level. I was always told that to get to the next level I needed to become faster; I needed to get stronger.
10% Physical, 90% Mental
Unfortunately nobody ever taught me how to train for my mental game, especially when it’s said, “Hockey is 10% physical, and 90% mental.” Sure, coaches always teach us to be focused, to be positive and to be competitive, but I never learned just how.
When it comes to playing hockey, being focused is key: You need to concentrate on the task at hand and be in the moment. Having a positive attitude is essential and can take you miles. Also, being competitive is how you win a hockey game—it’s that desire to go and get the puck in the corner and make something good happen. These are all aspects of the mental game of hockey that, if we practiced, we could take our game above and beyond. Your attitude is everything and will only take you as far as you want it to. The best thing about your attitude is that you can control it 100%. The mental game is all under your control, so training it is a no-brainer.
As I got older and kept on training for hockey, I added in my mental training regimen. I developed rituals. These pregame rituals help me to focus and prepare for the upcoming game or practice. Every day I focus on my attitude. I always work towards being positive in all situations. In all aspects of life, in tough moments I take a step back and relax, and think about a solution instead of sweating it. Even if it’s something like spilling coffee on myself, I take a deep breath, change out of my wet clothes, and get a new cup of coffee. I could very easily get upset or mad and feel sorry for myself, or I could move on and do something about it.
In the game of hockey you never know what could happen; it is fast paced and things are constantly changing. Being mentally tough allows you to persevere through it all. Of course there are situations beyond your control, such as the officiating, as you are not always going to agree with the calls. You have to push through those outside factors and not let them hinder your performance. Part of the glory of the game of hockey is that you never know what is going to happen next. That’s why your mental game always requires you to be prepared.
When you throw injuries into the mix, mental toughness becomes crucial. One minute everything is going smoothly, and the next your arm is in a cast and you’re out for weeks. While recovering from an injury it is essential that you keep a strong head, because sitting out not and getting to play can be mentally difficult. Sometimes having the sport you love and count on every day taken away from you can hurt more than the actual injury.
The Power of Positive Thinking
In times of being sidelined from injuries, it is important that you stay positive. When I was told I would never play hockey again due to a medical condition I had, staying positive was tough but it was definitely what got me through it. I would go to the rink and hang around my teammates, cheering them on, helping them in little ways, and sometimes even offering them some tips. Doing so made me still feel a part of it and important to my teammates. If you happen to be injured, thinking of alternatives to do during your recovery also helps you maintain a positive attitude. Look for ways to keep in shape, or ways to get better even though you’re not on the ice.
Even if you’re healthy, sitting on the bench is never easy either. When you reach the higher levels of the game it gets more competitive for ice time, as the best players play the most. If you do find yourself sitting on the bench, always remember your worth; you are on that team for a reason. Your time will come for you to prove your skill; however, in the meantime you must always stay positive. Be happy for your teammates and encourage them. Keeping your energy up will keep you in the game and raise the energy on the bench. Personally I don’t let my coaches get in my head when I am sitting out shifts. I try to keep a positive frame of mind and get fired up for my next shift.
Believe it or not, the best thing that could have ever happened to me growing up playing hockey was failing. When I missed out on an invite to the national team, I worked harder than ever to prove them wrong and show that I deserved to be there. The next year I found myself with an invite to tryouts because I worked as hard as ever to get there. Or as I play defense, whenever I would get scored on I took it as an opportunity to learn. I discovered what I did wrong, and made sure it never happened again to prevent getting scored on in future situations.
Failing could very well be the best way to practice your mental game, as it forces you to make a choice to persevere or back down and test your mental toughness.
These mental game practices must be recognized as important enough to practice every day. If your coach expects you to show up to strength training or conditioning every day, then you should be practicing your inner game every day as well.
Take your game to the next level and train your brain.
Lindsay Eastwood is the Communications Intern at CARHA Hockey. Published with permission of CARHA Hockey. ALL rights reserved.