Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disciplined Preparation Habits Create Consistent Performance

“I’d get pumped up with hard rock music. I thought that was the way to go to get yourself in a real zone. But I learned it’s quite the opposite. I’ve got to put myself in a peaceful state where you’re calm.”  John Vanbiesbrouck, NHL goaltender (The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 7, 1999)

Mr. Vanbiesbrouck I can empathize with you, I did the same thing for football. Get all revved up listening to the Rocky soundtrack (showing my age here) and then splat, not play my best. I remember being so pumped I would literally head butt other players, sprint on to the field (no I did not dance like Ray Lewis of the Ravens) and then be too energized to focus on my role. Hockey was easier for me in terms of finding the right energy level; I think probably because it is more of a flow game than a series of plays where you are trying to pick up what the other team is doing at full speed.

It is critical to know what energy level you need going into games (and practices). You know exactly what happens to a team when it comes out flat as a pancake? They get pancaked!

At the same time having too much energy is not good either, believe it or not. Too much energy leads to your mind racing and almost hyperactivity where you can not focus on one thing or switch your focus to relevant cues effectively. You find yourself thinking random things; often things that distract you and cause you to lose confidence. And, when your performance drops because you are distracted the large amount of energy turns into a large amount of negative emotion like anger and frustration. It is a vicious cycle.

Energy is at the heart of performance. Without it or with too much and you won’t play your best. The funny thing about it is that it’s an individual thing. Everyone has a unique energy level where they are more confident, focused, ready, and in control of their emotions. What’s your optimal range of energy?

The Thermometer

Frequently, players say you can never be overly energized. However, like John Vanbiesbrouck, many hockey players need to be more relaxed and calm to play their best. How much energy do you need to play your best? Do you play better when you have a great amount of activation? Or, do you prefer to be more calm and relaxed?

One way to learn about how much energy you need to be successful is just to think back to your best and worst performances and put a number to your energy level. How? Think about your energy on a thermometer which has a scale from 0 to 100 degrees. For those that need a great amount of energy their temperature would be hotter and be around 70-90 degrees. For example, wingers that are looking to forecheck hard will often want a great deal of energy.

For those that want to be more relaxed and cool they will have maybe 30-50 degrees of energy. Goaltenders often want to be more relaxed than their wingers because they play the whole game and don’t want to burning their energy too quickly. They also need to be experts in focus and picking up the puck through traffic. Being distracted is more disruptive to a goalie than any other player on the team.

Now, let’s think about your optimal level energy. What was your energy in the best game? The worst? Now for your best circle that number on the thermometer. And, for the worse put an “x” on that number. Did you find much difference between the two? Most players find a big difference between the two temperatures. The circle could be your optimal temp. Remember it; this is your target energy level as you prepare.

Now think back to how you generally play. Where do you think you normally need to be to play your best? You probably should be close to the best game temperature. You can use a range such as 50-60 degrees instead of 53 degrees to help identify and find your optimal energy level.

Daily Habits Lead to Optimal Energy

Paying attention to your energy levels just doesn’t happen on game day, it should be a daily habit to make sure you have the best energy for the most important things. If you have a big test, make sure you are focused and ready for it. Avoid doing “all nighters” going into your test because you will be tired and less able to retrieve what you studied.

If you have a big tournament coming up in a few days then you need to make sure to get rest, hydrate, and eat healthy, all those things you should be doing on a daily basis. Energy is all about good habits.

What habits do I have that lead to optimal energy? (For example, get enough sleep, visualizing the game plan)

What habits take away from my optimal energy (for example, not enough sleep or eating junk food)

Besides the principle of using the best energy for the most important things, (which means you need to be good at prioritizing) it is also important to realize that it is just as important to rest and recover as it is to expend your energy. You can deplete your energy tank. That’s when players become sick, fatigued, burned out, and injured.

What can I do to make I recover from the training load?

Recovery strategies could include getting massages, going to bed early, stretching during cool down, avoiding extra physical activity during times of intense training… Recovery should also include mental and emotional strategies such as relaxation and visualization.

Stress is a psychological phenomenon of believing you don’t have the capability or the resources to deal with the demands placed on you. However, the results of stress are physiological as well as psychological. The stress response includes accelerated heart rate and breathing, sweating, and heightened awareness. The problem is that stress over time can be related to falling ill, getting injured, and burning out. We are more susceptible to these things when our stress is high which burns our much needed energy leaving us feeling lethargic.

Therefore, you need to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally, as well. Make sure you are fulfilling social needs as well as hockey and academic needs. Call a friend, talk to your parents, go to the mall with your teammates, it is okay to have some fun.

However, a smart hockey player plans wisely and manages his time and energy well. He doesn’t procrastinate studying for an exam until the night before – because that creates life stress that will not only lead to poor exam performance but also worse on-ice performance.

Attempt to put some balance in your life when you can, but also take care of business. Do not get behind the “eight ball.” Get ahead on your studies, in fact, set a daily time to study and do homework if possible.

Just as important as it is to “show up” and workout or study, you need to ENGAGE and click in when you’re doing it. Going through the motions or being distracted leads to ineffective studying, practicing, competing, you name it - if you’re not engaged you’re not at your best. Make sure you have ways to engage when needed such as taking two minutes to breathe deeply and focus on your goals for practice or visualize your self successfully completing a class presentation.

Competition and Optimal Energy

During competition having optimal energy can be tricky because it comes and goes. That is why I suggest to player to do Check Ins – check in mentally to see if you are energized and focused. How would this work? Before a game check in mentally to assess your energy level and focus. Do you have enough energy? Do you have too much? Are you at your optimal temp? What are you thinking about? Are you thinking 2 P’s (positive and productive) or negative, irrelevant stuff?

When you check in you know if you need keep following your routine because your energy is good. Or, if it is too low or high you need to change it.

Reducing Your Energy Level

Just as common as not having enough energy is too much energy. You are too psyched, pumped, jittery, hyper, bouncing off the walls. When this occurs you are unable to focus and thoughts race in and out of consciousness. You also have less control over your anxiety so if you start doubting yourself you could tighten up and have a bad game. So, you need to become composed and relaxed. Simple activities like listening to slower music, doing deep breathing and visualizing, or slowly stretching can help you calm yourself. Distracting yourself from the importance of the game by finding someone to chat with can also help to reduce nerves. Finally, many professional hockey players will play soccer or do some other physical activity to burn some of the nervous energy and have some fun. It is a good way to get loose and keep your mind off of your own nerves.

Raising Your Energy Level

Not having enough energy is a common problem that usually comes from poor preparation. When you are not ready your body doesn’t prepare for action. That is why the butterflies are a good sign; it means your body is getting ready for battle!

When you don’t have enough energy you need to get excited. Do some vigorous exercises like high knees or fast skating. Listen to hard rock music (or if you are like me Rocky works too). Visualize a very intense game you played recently. Watch a movie that inspires you. Think “explode”, “pumped”, “energize” and visualize your temperature going into the optimal range of the thermometer.


In the end, it is your responsibility to be ready to play when the puck is dropped. By knowing your temperature and ways raise and lower your energy you can more consistently play your best hockey.

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