Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December Hockey Edge Newsletter Available

In the latest Hockey Edge Newsletter I took the Pyramid of Confidence and put all five posts from this blog into one newsletter. This is a great way to give your players or a coach you know all the information on building confidence in one place.

The December edition of the Hockey Edge Newsletter is available by clicking on the link on the right sidebar or going to the Southeastern USA Hockey coaches page.

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.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Concussion Problem in the NHL

According to Hockey Night in Canada over $87 million dollars is sitting on the shelf due to concussions. Sidney Crosby has basically lost a year of his career, hopefully not more. Chris Pronger was ruled out for the regular season and playoffs by the Flyers on Thursday. The NHL's leading scorer at the time Claude Giroux is out indefinitely. What was a pretty slow year for concussions suddenly took off in the past week.

There is non-stop talk now to find a solution to the growing problem. Some interesting ideas have been tossed out there. Changing the shoulder pads of the players so that they are less bulky most certainly would make a difference. I also think there is some merit to going to Olympic-size ice dimensions. Unfortunately, HNIC also reported that the average would be $10-12 million per rink to make the change. This cost does not factor lost revenue by taking out high-priced front row seats. I don't see teams agreeing to this solution. Others have argued that taking out the trapezoid behind the net and allowing the goalie to play the puck will reduce big hits on helpless defenseman. Finally, automatic icing has been suggested for years as safer than the "touch-up" rule.

While many solutions have been presented most experts are struggling to find the "answer" to the problem. In my opinion the league is not going to find a simple answer. The concussions incurred by Crosby and Giroux came from hits from teammates. And, Pronger's concussion allegedly is from a high stick he took on the follow through of a shot. There is no way to regulate these kinds of incidences. Concussions also occur from random acts like getting hit with the puck in the head.

Keith Jones pointed out that the speed and size of the players is contributing to the increase in concussions. And, no one wants to see the game slow down. I don't see the NHL putting "restrictor plates" on the skates of players. So, where does that leave the NHL?

Curbing aggression will start and end with the players. First and foremost, players must respect one another and eliminate illegal acts that enhance the potential for concussions. They must avoid hitting from behind, boarding, elbowing to the head, and charging at a defenseless player. Again, simply minimizing illegal and borderline play will not eliminate concussions. Thus, players must also be smart and avoid situations that could lead to a head injury. For instance, I am surprised how often I see players turn their back as an opponent is about to hit them. As quick as the game is going players have to keep their head up and be agile. Otherwise they are a sitting duck in the middle of a crossfire.

Ultimately the answers to the concussion problem lie with further research and discussion about the precursors to the incidences causing concussion. It will take a number of changes to curb the tide of concussions. I hope we can find solutions soon that keep the players safe and also maintain the speed of the game.

Friday, December 2, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Do It: Blog Entry 5

Blog Entry 5: Confidence Training Under Pressure

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” - Muhammad Ali

In previous posts about confidence I have presented the pyramid model of confidence. How to know yourself, your strengths and limitations, the importance of preparation, routines, and discipline, and thinking positively and productively (2 Ps). In this post I will put it all together and present what an athlete needs to do to develop resilient confidence: the confidence to believe in your self despite being a slump, losing, or just not having things go your way.

At the top of the pyramid is the ability to be confident in pressure hockey situations - championship games on the road; down 3-2 in the third period, or up 3-2 and trying to finish the game off. To be confident in big games, tryouts, or even in playing in front of your school you have to not only have the first four layers of the pyramid in the right place, but also have trained your skills to work in pressure situations.

You must train under pressure and work on staying positive and productive in your thinking. How? In practice have your coach put you in very competitive board battles or scrimmages where something is riding on it (you win the scrimmage and you have two less sprints in conditioning). And, when put in these pressure situations have a plan for staying positive. Plan for what triggers negativity and then work your plan to stay confident.

A plan or routine you can use in negative trigger situations, like after turning the puck over, is the 3 R’s.

  1. RESPOND – Positive

Have an immediate positive (or at least neutral) response to what has happened on the ice. In the heat of battle no one likes a “sulker” or a “do everyone’s job” player. Instead, treat mistakes for what they are – a single mistake. Learn from it and let it go. And, look forward to tough situations like being down a goal. See it as a challenge and allow adversity to bring out the best in you – the competitor.

So, the response stage is about managing your reactions to negative triggers. Using self-talk (Let it go, Ignore it, Move on) or visualization (see the mistake, erase it from your mind, and replace it with the play you will make) will help you stay positive in tough situations.

  1. RELAX – Breathing

Next you want to compose yourself. Too often players fail to slow down their breathing and their thinking enough to gain control. They get anxious and have negative thinking. This of course hurts their performance.

Slow down to get your game on track. Take slow, deep breaths to compose your self. Slow down to think clearly. While this strategy works very well on the bench between shifts, it can be used during the game before a faceoff or even quickly while you are skating. It takes practice but you can do it. I have seen it with my own eyes and also have used this deep breathing in play myself.

  1. REFOCUS – 2 P’s thinking

The final step is to refocus. You want to get your focus back on playing the game, not on your own thoughts. So, the goal: refocus back on playing hockey immediately. This can be done by using 2 P thinking (Positive, Productive) that gets you focused and playing again. Focusing words or phrases such as “Focus”, “Quick”, “Wall”, "Absorb the puck" or “Sponge” (for a goalie), “Keep Working”, “Stay in It”, and “You can do this” will help to get your mind back in the game. Simple reminders of how you want to play and confidence-boosting statements both can help you back in the moment and playing your game.

To be a confident hockey player you must train your mind in pressure situations. Find ways to put the pressure on yourself and work your plan for staying confident. Follow the steps in this pyramid of confidence to help you boost your confidence and maintain it once it is where you want it.

Now it is up to you. What will you do to become the confident hockey player you have always wanted to be? Follow the advice in this pyramid and you will begin to understand yourself, break your ceilings, develop habits and routines to make you physically and mentally fit, think in disciplined ways to be more positive and productive, and remain confident under pressure.