SEC’s founding members are excited to post the recent article on the Mental Aspect of Hockey by long-time hockey player and marketing specialist for ProStockHockey, A.J. Lee. We at SEC are keenly aware of the growing trend of mind/body practices being used in mainstream sports, that now apparently involves a move inside the NHL to provide specific mental-and-emotional training for Hockey players.

SEC has begun a movement to provide applied methods under the umbrella of whole person training that transcends the old model of cognitive-based sport psychology, all in an effort to unify the mental training field by expanding the model and concomitantly integrating leading-edge body/mind practices.

For generations, nobody has argued the importance of managing the mental aspect of sport for consistent, championship performances. However, historically, the bind has been that efforts to address this issue have been rooted in advice-only teaching that has been devoid of methods, as well as, the myth that only the weak seek help for troubling performances. Instead, this myth is being erased with the understanding that the courageous athletes admit when they have mental/emotional blocks to performance and then take action to resolve any sport-performance blocks.

Lee points out that there is a significant shift in the NHL toward specific mental training, some teams adding sport psychology services, and some top players adding mental training to their overall preparation to compete. He also highlights not only mental training, but the importance of emotional training and understanding the 90-second rule of emotional experiences and how, ultimately, most or all of the mental aspects of hockey stem from our emotions.

The Mental Aspect Of Hockey  

Hockey players likely won’t get the luxury of playing out their career without hearing at least one coach tell them to get their head in the game. Examples of unfocused hockey can be found at all levels — including in the ranks of NHLers who get paid millions to keep their heads in the game. Patrik Stefan's infamous miss of an empty-net goal may be the best example of why concentration and focus matter in hockey. Yet for all the attention, time, money and effort put into physical training for hockey, the game’s mental aspects have been far less developed.

Physical Training vs. Mental Training

Hockey resembles many other sports where a distinct culture has arisen that ignores, shuns or even ridicules any aspects of mental health or stability not connected to the game itself. Much as players are taught to play through physical pain, aspects of mental health that limit performance (ranging from simple frustration to major psychological conditions) ought to take a backseat to team successes. At junior levels, this can result in players finding it easier to quit the game altogether than to address mental concerns. At the highest level of play, NHLers such as Corey Hirsh have noted that their mental struggles, compounded by a complete lack of any available professional support, affected their performance on the ice.

This culture, however, has begun to fade as players and coaches look for any advantage that can result in a higher score by the final horn. Mental training has exploded in popularity as a complement to physical training. This popularity has resulted in NHL training staff rosters that now include sports psychologists who help with mental roadblocks just like physical trainers help with muscle tweaks. While even the richest kids' team cannot afford such luxuries, coaches who ignore mental training and development might be running the risk of getting less than 100 percent from their players on each shift. Walter Aguilar, a founder of the COR.E Performance Dynamics training system, goes so far to say that mindfulness, a resource previously untapped, will soon become the next big achievement in sports performance training.

Mind Over Matter?

Whether mindfulness can do as much for an athlete as weight training and proper nutrition remains to be seen. However, there's no question that it's helped a number of athletes succeed, including Lars Eller, who credits sports psychologist Sylvain Guimond with helping him gain confidence — confidence that the Washington Capitals noticed, which is why Eller will draw a paycheck of nearly $5 million next season. Even the NHL's reigning back-to- back champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, keep a sports psychologist on the payroll to get the most out of superstars including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

A kids’ team coach should not think that mental performance training and coaching only apply to teams with the budget to retain psychologists. Rather, coaches and trainers should understand that the messages they project and the demands they place on their players will affect each member of the team differently — from the starting goalie to a late-season addition. One trend in youth sports psychology involves integrating positive influences (most often family members) into the team. While everyone knows that the over-eager parent yelling at a referee from the stands is nothing but a bad influence, most parental influence on a team can be positive. By becoming part of the team's activities, ranging from practices to fundraisers, parents provide an authoritative and guiding influence that can help kids relieve the mental stresses of feeling alone and focus on their game. Just as schools find that pupils perform better when parents become actively involved with lessons, homework and activities, so too can kids' hockey benefit from parents and/or siblings becoming unofficial team members (provided, of course, that the authority figures of coaches and trainers remain visibly in control).

Opening Lines of Communication

Hockey promotes a strong-but- silent culture; look no further than the terse interviews players give in which they say practically nothing. The understanding that hockey players should keep a lid on their concerns, however, leads to frustration that can result in on-ice performance issues. Some coaches found success using dialogues and talk sessions with their team — where players discuss their performances, their obligations and roles, their expectations and their frustrations. By sharing perspectives and opening lines of communication, players can share (and, if necessary, vent) their concerns. While this is difficult for lower age groups, where kids are both reluctant to talk and may not be able to articulate their issues, it's especially helpful as players enter their teenage years, where even the smallest issues can ripple outward to affect the team. Coaches must play the part of dialogue facilitator and referee, keeping the tone positive and supportive; while also not shying away from any major issues where they believe the team needs to change in order to succeed. Generally, most psychologists agree that young children are more influenced by adult perspectives, while older children and teenagers are influenced by peers and friends.

A Little Confidence Goes a Long Way

Perhaps the most important aspect of managing hockey players' mental stability is
managing their confidence. You need only flip on an NHL game to see confidence in spades, whether from a player who waits for the perfect moment to unleash his or her shot, or who charges up the ice knowing that he or she can beat any adversary one on one. Mike Edgar, contributing writer of Sports Psychology Today, claims that the two most common killers of confidence are high expectations and self-doubt. In both cases, coaches, trainers and parents may be able to provide perspective. Coaches can help players review factors that should make them confident — ranging from minor (improving in a particular drill during practice) to major (scoring more goals than the previous season). Perhaps more importantly, coaches can also adjust expectations for their players, suggesting goals that are easier to meet to build confidence rather than lay too heavy a burden on their team. Coaches also should carefully categorize individual and team expectations, so that each player understands what he or she must do on the ice without losing perspective of the bigger picture of team success.

The 90-Second Rule

Ultimately, most or all of the mental aspects of hockey stem from our emotions. These emotions range from the rush of scoring a goal on a breakaway to the shame of single-handedly costing your team the game by making a poor decision in your zone. Psychologists have noted, however, that these emotions have very little staying power: After 90 seconds, your brain stops producing the chemicals that trigger emotional reactions. This very simply means that if a player is still frustrated after 90 seconds, it's because he or she is choosing to focus on it, instead of letting it go. Coaches can build mental discipline just as they can build physical discipline. Using the 90 second rule as a way to encourage players to push past their frustrations is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do so.

Every hockey player, coach, referee and fan is human. We all make mistakes and we all must deal with these mistakes. For hockey players, mistakes on the ice can lead to doubt, frustration and poor play. By focusing on the mental aspects of the game as well as skating speed and outlet passes, coaches can help their players succeed each time they jump over the boards to get involved in the play.

Author bio:

AJ Lee is Marketing Specialist at Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. Lee picked up his first hockey stick at age 3 and hasn’t put it down yet

Sources team-psychologists-ability-to- put-the- focus-on- the-right- things/article9938142/ psychology/hockey%E2%80%99s-number-one- mental-game- asset/ component-mental- skills-training- in-the- nhl/