With the NHL season in full flow and the playoffs in the early stages, ice hockey continues to demonstrate why mental skills training is so important in athletes’ abilities to train and perform at their best when it matters most, such as the playoffs!
Just as physical conditioning and technical training are vital components of an athlete’s training, mental skills training can be the difference-maker in whether a hockey player can perform consistently and bounce back from adversity.
There is no doubt that mental resilience plays an important part in hockey, but how does an athlete even begin to develop mental training in practice and competition? Or know what skills to develop?
If you want to learn about three mental skills that can assist you in training and performing at your best in hockey, you are on the right page!
Mental Skill #1: Goal Setting and Commitment
While we may all love the sport of hockey, our motivation in training and competition relies heavily on two specific factors: (1) why we train and compete, and (2) what we hope to achieve as a result. The "why" is usually the most important because if your goal does not align with the reason it is important to you, why would you expect to be committed every day when working toward that goal? Take a moment to identify what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, then evaluate if they align with one another. For example, I will attend all team practices and I will stay after training for 30 minutes to work on shooting (your "what") in order to improve my chances of getting a hockey scholarship to a D1 college (your "why"). Once you have identified what you want to achieve and why it is important to you, the next step is to identify the steps — or what I call “mental markers” — that you can take every day to achieve your goal. These markers will help you stay on track when working your way toward the goal line (your "what"), and will simplify what you need to focus on in every training session and match.
Mental Skill #2: Self-Talk and Building Confidence
Many athletes and coaches cite confidence as the most important trait in achieving success, but it is also the hardest to develop and maintain throughout an entire season. You are faced with different challenges in every training session and game, some you have overcome in the past while others you are facing for the first time — but what ultimately dictates if you succeed or fall short is your self-confidence. Your self-confidence is the difference between you thinking that you can accomplish the challenge, and knowing that you will. One of the easiest ways to build or manage your confidence is through self-talk, the inner voice that can be your best friend or worst enemy. It has been proven that the language we adopt in our self-talk can directly impact our mood and arousal levels in competition. For example, using words such as “must, need and have” can make us feel under pressure and lead us to experience symptoms of nervousness, which can negatively impact our ability to perform desirably. Using more motivational language such as “want, can and will” can cause us to feel more confident and inspired (for example, “I will score this penalty shot.”). Another strategy for improving your confidence is recognizing what you are good at and reiterating those strengths to yourself during challenging moments. For instance, “I have fantastic passing skills in the way I time my passes and accurately distribute the puck to my teammates.”
Mental Skill #3: Developing and Utilizing a Pre-Performance Routine
Another significant trait of high-performing hockey athletes is consistency, whereby the hockey player performs at a high level on a regular basis no matter the opposition. One specific skill that can help you develop your consistency as a hockey player is by developing a pre-performance routine. The reason why this skill is especially important for hockey athletes is because you are substituted several times in a game and are required to consistently perform at your best when you go back in. In reality, a pre-performance routine is the few steps you can complete in order to be ready to deliver your best performance on ice. This can include:
- Having everything you need and making sure it is prepared, especially your equipment
- Listening to music that helps you focus
- Stretching and warming
- Visualizing yourself performing well
- Deep breathing
- Rehearsing your strengths (discussed in mental skill #2)
- Focusing on a specific task/action in the game
Just like anything in sports, by actively practicing your mental skills such as these on a regular basis can help improve your ability to perform at your best every time you go on ice! To read more sports psychology-related blogs and learn other mental tips, check out The Performance Pursuit’s Performance Library.
Kai Laird is a sport & performance psychology consultant at The Performance Pursuit, which is a sport psychology consulting company that provides various mental skill training services to athletes, coaches, and sport organizations across the US. Kai and his team at The Performance Pursuit have assisted hundreds of athletes and coaches in developing the necessary mental skills to perform at their best consistently. Learn more about them and receive a free session here: Kai & The Performance Pursuit