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Rink Think 101: A Guide To Mental Prep For Hockey
Fifteen years after Eminem released his famous song, Lose Yourself, it still pops up on pregame mixes for a reason: It is as good a distillation of mental preparation as you’ll find because the song brings your to a moment with calm intensity, shutting out distraction, and unleashing your preparation and passion at precisely the right time.
“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go.
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow,
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime …”
Michael Phelps pumped Eminem through his earbuds at the Rio Olympics. In 2016, Barack Obama was captured backstage bobbing his head to the tune before he addressed the Democratic National Convention.
Eminem’s music may not be for everyone. Though mental preparation, as much as all the physical conditioning and skill development, is crucial for athletes. None more so than hockey players, whose sport requires channeled aggression; fast-twitch response to physical and mental affronts; and a well-worked on/off switch like no other.
You can train your mind as well as your legs and lungs.
What’s the Goal?
Most of us are playing against opponents of similar physical gifts. When the talent is leveled, the place to find an edge is in oft-overlooked mental training. Yes, a tactical game plan is important, but so is increased self-confidence and focus.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Find “game mode”: Outside distractions — jobs, school, romantic entanglements — don’t end when the game starts. Thinking about them, though, should shut off before you step on the ice. A pregame routine — snack, music, warmup exercises, the order in which you dress — is one way to achieve game mode. By the way, there is a difference between routine and ritual — a snack to ensure you’ll have the necessary calories to power your effort is routine, if it always has to be a Fluffernutter on wheat, that’s ritual. Routines make you prepared, rituals make you comfortable. Both have their place.
- Visualize: Golfers will stand on the tee and see the shape of the shot they want to hit before they hit it. It means not ignoring the bunker or the lake or the trees, but acknowledging them and seeing instead the flight path to the fairway. For a hockey player, that might mean seeing yourself winning puck battles, finishing hits, making the right pass or scoring goals. It might mean taking a seat beside an empty rink and seeing yourself streaking along the boards and swooping through a corner to win a race to the puck.
- Embrace mistakes: Should you care about what your teammates or coaches think of you? Yes. Should you be scared of what they think of you? No! If you’re scared to make a turnover, you won’t make the necessary pass. Never trying ensures failure. However, know the difference between being willing to take the occasional risk and always making low-percentage plays.
- Get into character: Give yourself an alter ego, a character you wish to become on the ice. Like a method actor, becoming fully invested in that character gives you the freedom to embrace behaviors — brash confidence, the ability to trash talk — that might not come naturally to the person you are in street shoes.
Thomas Edison failed many times while trying to find a long-lasting, relatively cool-burning filament for the electric light bulb. While he likely never said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb,” the points of the apocryphal quote are sound.
It is possible to learn something while not succeeding, and it is possible to view a negative in a positive light. In other words, don’t be afraid to shoot. Accept that missed shots happen, be grateful that you’re getting scoring chances, and believe that the next shot will score.
Mindfulness Leads to the ‘Zone’
A major study linked mindfulness with feeling a higher state of flow — that feeling of being totally in the moment, which translates to the “zone,” where the net looks huge, your legs feel light, and the puck seems always to find and leave your blade exactly as you would have it.
You can enhance your mindfulness with these simple practices:
- Mindful breathing: Before beginning your day, workout or game, sit comfortably, close your eyes and consciously deepen your breath. Inhale completely. Exhale with the feeling that your belly is trying to reach your spine. Spend five minutes paying attention to the way you breathe. This will encourage a calm and clear mind and will enable you to better regulate your breathing at times of physical stress.
- Mental “body scan”: Lie down on your back with your palms up and legs relaxed. Do a mental check-in for each area of your body — from toes to feet to ankles; calves, knees, thighs, hips, lower back, stomach and so on through the top of your head. Is that area tense? Warm? Cold? Breathe into those areas holding tension — in other words, concentrate on that body part and try to feel a deep inhalation radiating there — for a few breaths before moving onto the next body part. Ten minutes should allow you to identify all your trouble spots.
- Hear your internal messages: You can’t block negative thoughts, but you can alter your reaction to them. Acknowledge the thought, but don’t indulge it. Notice the feeling, but remember that feelings aren’t facts.
Have a Preset Reset
When the game is on, sometimes all that visualization and positivity and Fluffernutter gets checked right out of you. You’ve got to find a way to center yourself, to gather yourself. A mantra can do that.
A mantra is a repeated set of words or sounds used to bring the focus in meditating. Mantras can also be reassurances in the heat of the moment. If you’ve been repeating “I am strong” before each set in the gym, or as you do cardio, repeating those words as you gather yourself after being checked into the boards can reset your focus.
It helps when Eminem isn’t handy.
A special thank you our friends at Pro Stock Hockey a one-stop shop for all things hockey-Never buys retail again.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. Lee picked up his first hockey stick at age 3 and hasn’t put it down yet.