Written by CARHA Hockey's Communications Intern 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. However, hockey has many more aspects to it, including the mental game.
Having played hockey since the age of six, the way I train for hockey has changed and developed over the years. At first I started out just by simply 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 to get to the next level I needed to get faster and I needed to get stronger.
How come nobody ever taught me how to train my mental game when they say, “The game is 10% physical, 90% mental”. Sure coaches have preached to be focused, be positive, and be competitive but they have never taught me how.
When it comes to playing hockey, being focused is key. You need to be concentrated 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 hockey games - 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 side of the game 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 100% control it. The mental side of the game is all in 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 pre game rituals help me 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 tough moments in all aspects of life, I take a step back and relax and think about a solution instead of sweating it. For example, if I drop my coffee and it spills all over me, I take a deep breath, change out of my wet coffee clothes, and get a new coffee. I could very easily, get upset or mad and feel bad for myself, or I could move on and do something about it.
In the game of hockey you never know what could happen as it is fast paced and things are constantly changing. Being mentally tough allows for you to persevere through it all. There are situations you cannot control such as the officiating as you are not always going to agree with the calls. You have to push through these outside factors and not let them be detrimental to your performance. Part of the glory of hockey is that you never know what is going to happen next, so your mental game always needs to be prepared.
Then you throw injuries into the mix, in which mental toughness is crucial. One minute everything is going smoothly and the next your arm is in a cast and you’re out for a minimum of six weeks. When going through an injury, it is essential that you keep a strong head because sitting out not getting to play can get mentally difficult. Having the sport you love and count on every day taken away from you can hurt more than the actual injury. In times of being sidelined from injuries, it is important 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 be around my teammates, cheering them on, helping them in little ways, and even sometimes giving them some tips. This made me still feel a part of it and important to my teammates. Thinking of alternatives to do during your recovery also helps you maintain a positive attitude. Look for ways to keep you in shape, or ways to get better even though you can’t be on the ice.
Sitting on the bench is never easy either. When you get to high levels of playing 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 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.
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 them 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 a chance to learn. I learned 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.