Are You Training Your Hockey Mind?

Train Your Mind for Results On the Ice

Consider this first-hand example…

About 24 months ago, we got a call from a concerned Dad about his teenage elite hockey player. There were fundamental problems with the two critical keys of high-performance – enjoyment and achievement. Both were missing. No fun and no results. His son had become frustrated with the sport, it was a chore going to the rink, games were filled with anxiety, confidence was low and results were negligible. The drama around the sport was also becoming negative with the impacts of some unprofessional coaching, social media, and the burden of expectations. It was time to either quit and find something else to do … or do something about it.

Fast forward 24 months after a mental/ emotional development process that developed the critical skills the young hockey players needed to both achieve his targets, add great value to the team and have fun playing hockey again …

From Dad … “I can’t believe the turnaround and the change in attitude from not wanting to go to the rink to now putting everything he’s got into hockey. His goal of playing in college is now achieved and he made the all-rookie team and is dominating on the ice.”

Mental/ Emotional High-Performance Development Can Be the Difference in Your Hockey Career


I have the wonderful privilege of working with some of the world’s leading athletes in many different sports (including the National Hockey League). These athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to training and performance. They understand that performance starts in the mind – so building their mental and emotional muscles is a priority toward maximizing their abilities. Spending equal time on all the key areas of performance enables them to have a healthy, proactive approach to their sport.

In an athlete performance model – there are four key areas:

Technical – your skill development – fundamentals

Physical – physical development to support your technical skills

Strategic – hockey sense and understanding how to play the game

Mental/ Emotional – critical fundamentals and tools that drive the physical performance

It has been my experience in the sport of hockey that with the emphasis on year-round training and complete commitment to bigger, faster, stronger physical development, the training of the player’s mind is secondary. The lack of training in the mental/emotional component inhibits the player from truly bringing maximum value to their own game and the game of the team. The player does not truly develop into a happy, healthy athlete.

The traditional nature of the hockey culture has created an environment of late adoption to new approaches compared to other sports. Players and coaches have not embraced the exponential benefits of mental and emotional high-performance development. Non-stop technical and physical training has been the priority with the hockey mind far behind.

This late adoption is potentially being fuelled by some myths about the area of performance that is maybe not completely understood. These myths may be ultimately holding players back from progress in the quest to reach their potential and fully maximize their experience in the sport.

A Few Myths that Might Be Holding Your Playing Back

Uncover The Facts appearing behind torn brown paper.
Uncover The Facts appearing behind torn brown paper.

I’d like to dispel a few myths that may cause you to hesitate and prevent you from working on developing your mental & emotional muscles – and ultimately preclude you from being the best player you can be …

Myth: There is something wrong with me if I need to work on mental/emotional skills in my sport.

Fact: Mental and emotional high-performance development in sport is not about fixing an athlete. It is completely about developing skills that are required to maximize abilities. It is an educational process. Like building your technical, physical and strategic skills each day, the same effort must be made to develop the mental and emotional aspect.

Myth: Mental and emotional high-performance training is for athletes who are mentally weak.

Fact: Mental and emotional training is for all athletes. Any athlete, at any level should be developing the skills that more fully allow them to express their technical and physical training. Consider that every great athlete is coached – no matter what level. Why? So they can continue to improve and insure sustainability and consistency.

Myth: Mental and Emotional high-performance development is only for elite players.

Fact: Any level of hockey or age can benefit from mental & emotional high-performance development. Parents and coaches can also benefit. Not only will mental & emotional high-performance development help you on the ice – but the skills are highly transferable to all areas of life like school, business, leadership and relationships.
Myth: Mental & emotional training is a quick fix and a short-term thing.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is a process to build independence and confidence in the client athlete. Like any skill, it takes time and repetition to build competency and confidence. Tricks and tips never work. Mastery of mental/ emotional fundamentals and a great process does.

Myth: Mental & emotional training is too much like therapy, lying on a couch talking about my feelings.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is about high performance and developing performance skills. A great performance expert has a defined, quantifiable process that includes assessment, building detailed plans, communicating with coaches and using the latest technologies to help the hockey athlete improve. The work is done through conversation, watching, reviewing and planning at a convenient location or at the rink.

Why Mental/ Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You


Forward thinking NHL executives like Brad Treliving understand the benefits of mental/ emotional high-performance development and that it’s the next frontier in hockey. His club is looking for players, in environments like the NHL combine, that have both physical and mental/ emotional capabilities …

“The mental aspect of the sport is 90 percent of it,” says Treliving. “Physical deficiencies can be addressed,” but he indicates mental skills can’t be so easily tweaked.

Players in the future will need a strong mental & emotional framework as hockey catches up to other sports and places more emphasis on what’s under the helmet.

Here are a just a few benefits of mental/emotional high-performance development that you might not have considered:

  1. Building self-awareness. Working with the world’s leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that 8/10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a hockey player to maximize abilities. Development of self-awareness through hockey will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.

  2. Building confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will insure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the ice!

  3. A clear path forward. A detailed, concise athlete plan is required including a vision for your hockey career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most athletes have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets and therefore most often get lost along the way and don’t reach targets.

  4. Awareness and regulation of emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high-performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.

  5. Building focus. We live in a world of distraction – phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to centre the focus on what’s important. Mental/emotional high-performance development builds a new level of focus.

  6. Insuring enjoyment. The ultimate result of your hockey career is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that do not enable them to enjoy the sport.

So, what are you waiting for?

There are hockey players all over the world who have technical and physical talent – but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like players in the NHL who are now embracing mental & emotional development, building their mental & emotional muscles and achieving more.

I encourage you to be an early adopter and take the next step to maximize your hockey abilities – and more fully enjoy the sport you love. Be proactive and don’t wait for issues to arise. Take a developmental stance and build the skills to maximize your abilities and gain an edge over your competition. And, as a major added benefit, you’ll take these skills and become a high performer in everything you do!

The Grateful Hockey Player

The Grateful Hockey Player

What are you grateful for?

That might seem like a strange question to ask a high performing athlete, but the emotion of gratitude can help take your performance to the next level. We have seen performance shifts with some of the world’s leading athletes by adopting a grateful attitude.

Let me explain …

Research has linked the emotion of gratitude to better overall physical and mental health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression. Athletes are more satisfied with their teams, less likely to burn out and enjoy better well-being overall.

In my work with athletes, and in previous articles I have written, I highlight the importance of “enjoyment over achievement”. Making sure that enjoyment is at the forefront of performance in hockey with achievement following. The player who pursues achievement in hockey so diligently that they forget about one of the key purposes of the game, enjoyment and fun, can often end frustrated and miserable. The athlete who pursues enjoyment first, with a deep commitment to excellence and improvement is the athlete who lasts and achieves.

So why can focusing on gratitude be so beneficial to you as a hockey player?

Well consider that it is impossible to have two emotions at once. And, the same goes for thoughts for that matter – we can only handle one thought at a time. As an athlete, this is important for you to know. When you do feel negative emotions that limit your performance, you have the option of changing your state to a positive emotion – and gratitude is a great one to make the shift.

A few characteristics of grateful hockey players …

Grateful hockey players appreciate what they have

While some players complain, make excuses and don’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity of sport, grateful players are excited to have the opportunity to play a sport they love and all of the benefits that go with that sport (fitness, relationships, life lessons, joy of winning, the learning from losing and the opportunity to challenge and test your abilities).

hand shake

Grateful hockey players are grateful for competitors

Appreciate your competitors! Competitors can bring out the best in you and without them you do not have the opportunity to play and test your limits. Competitors give you an opportunity to bring out your best. In his autobiography, former Olympic track star Carl Lewis reports that he chose to embrace his competitors as essential in the quest for performance excellence rather than as enemies meant to be beaten down. Lewis won 10 Olympic medals, nine of them gold. You may look at your competitors as threats, but they are important to your development and you need them!

Grateful hockey players appreciate the journey and struggle

They know that there will be difficulties and hockey performance often goes in cycles – ups and downs. Grateful players learn from these struggles to always move forward. There is an appreciation in the value of their struggles and an ability to look at the big picture and know there are brighter days ahead.

Grateful hockey players “sweep the shed”

Like the great World Champion New Zealand All Blacks who tidy up their dressing room after every training and game, and believe humility is aligned with greatness, grateful players appreciate everyone around them. They appreciate everything they receive – there is no attitude of entitlement.

all blacks

Grateful hockey players enjoy pressure

Is there pressure in sports? Yes! But, grateful players recognize the incredible opportunity they have to demonstrate their skills and test their limits. You play a game you love often with people engaged and cheering what you do. Grateful players appreciate the meaning that pressure gives their experience. They know pressure is a privilege. Grateful players look around and appreciate the challenge that is being given to them.

Grateful hockey players do not rely on winning

Because they are so focused on a great process and appreciate great competition, the joy of grateful players is not dependent on winning. They want to win, but really appreciate their process, the competition and the challenge.

Grateful hockey players let go

When it’s time to play and practice, it is done with purpose, intention and efficiency. Grateful players work hard with intention but also appreciate and enjoy their time away from practice and competition – appreciating all parts of their life.

So, what can you do to become a grateful hockey player?

Here’s a start …

  • Realize how lucky you are to be playing a sport, having the opportunity to express yourself and having the opportunity to give your life meaning.
  • Remember you can only feel one emotion at once. Replace anxious feelings with feelings of gratefulness – make the decision to change your state with a shift to being grateful for this great opportunity to participate in your sport and test your abilities.

    “I can’t do this” or “what will they think if I lose” shifts to a grateful attitude…

    “How lucky am I to do this and test my skills”
  • As an exercise, at the end of each day, think about two things you are grateful for from the day. Get in the habit of being grateful for things in hockey and in your life away from hockey.

Remember to be grateful for what you have including your opportunity to play hockey. Hockey is not something you have to do, but something you get to do!

Do You Know Your Hockey Blind Spots?

Blind Spots

I was inspired to write this article by a quote I come across from a friend of mine, Melinda Harrison, a former Olympic swimmer who specializes in helping athletes transition from the world of sport to their next great venture.

“If you do not see the wave coming, it can smack you down and pull you under leaving you feeling tossed around, upside down, gasping for breath and picking out sand from areas you never knew existed,” she wrote.

I knew this feeling well in my professional sports career. I was tossed around often. In fact, these waves were blind spots that eventually derailed a professional sports career that had promise. I found myself metaphorically picking sand from areas I never knew existed (far too many times), and I didn’t understand how it was happening.

What are the blind spots in your game? Those waves you don’t see coming that leave you tossed around and falling short of your capabilities.

Right now is a great time of the year to roll up your sleeves and reflect on what happened during 2016 — and what you might do in 2017 to get more enjoyment and make some positive strides in your game. How was your hockey year? Happy with it? Wanting more?

In a reflection exercise, I highly recommend you consider your own blind spots, and what might be unconsciously holding you back from moving forward and getting more out of your game.

Blind spots damage performance

Working with world-class performers every day, I can assure you that understanding blind spots is important in performance. Almost every performer I have worked with has them, and I expect you do, too. Part of my job is to help these world-class performers identify their blind spots, making sure they have a clear view of what’s beneath their awareness and might therefore be holding them back.

blind spot warning

Let’s highlight the idea of blind spots by using my own professional sports career (professional golf) as an example. This may help you start thinking about your own blind spots and get the wheels turning. I had a few tendencies that were constantly beneath my awareness that kept me on the treadmill and not striding forward on a steady, consistent career path.

A few examples:

  • Focusing too much time on the long game in golf, obsessing about it and not allocating more effort to the game from 100 yards and in from the green. I neglected to keep the object of the game in mind (shooting the lowest score possible!).
  • Failing to develop my self-awareness. I had limited awareness how my emotions were knocking me around and creating a blurry focus, especially under the pressures of professional golf.
  • Not fully understanding the critical impact of others’ expectations on my day-to-day performance.
  • No clear path forward. I did not have a well-defined vision or detailed steps in place to guide day-to-day progress and development.


You can imagine how these blind spots could make sustainable progress in my career difficult. Each of the areas above needed attention in order for me to have a better opportunity to reach new levels.

What are your hockey blind spots?

What is holding you back that may be beneath your awareness? In the next short while, I encourage you to think about your own blind spots, and also consider some feedback from others who may know your game. Chances are an honest assessment of your blind spots, and some outside feedback, will shed some light on the factors that are limiting you.

To help you further, here are a few, common hockey blind spots that I have seen in players I work with at a variety of levels. Could any of these apply to you?

  • Always having to be coached and not putting time in on your own to develop your skills – individual training and skill development is a key to excellence.
  • Getting far too caught up in the technical aspect of the game and neglecting the creative component.
  • Allowing small dips in performance to greatly impact your confidence.
  • Not having the discipline to work on weaknesses – working on strengths is fine but weaknesses need to be developed so they don’t limit you.
  • Effort in practice is nowhere near effort in games – when effort in practice should be higher than games.
  • Having trouble taking your game from the practice ice to the game ice and not understanding why.
  • Losing focus over small mistakes and not being able to get it back on track the rest of the game.
  • It’s either perfect or nothing – you insist on perfection and are never happy with your performance.
  • Not enjoying the game as much as you should and not knowing why.

These ideas should help you get started on your own assessment. What might be holding you back that you are not aware of? Take some time to think about it in the the next while. Reflection is an important characteristic in high performers and a key to improvement. Identifying your blind spots is a great first step in understanding what may be holding you back in your game on the ice.

How Can You Build Your Hockey Confidence?

Some keys to help you become a more confident player

Every night in the NHL, you’ll see fantastic displays of skill – players trying things in the middle of games, taking calculated risk and using their great abilities. Recently, I attended a game in Ottawa – the Chicago BlackHawks visited the Ottawa Senators and Patrick Kane put on a confidence clinic – trying things in the game that other players may not think about. And, it paid off for Patrick as he dominated the game and put on a great show for the fans. On one play, Patrick picked up the puck at his own blue line, skated through several players in the neutral zone, cut down low in the offensive zone, skated behind the net and sent a no-look pass to his line-mate in front of the net – who easily tapped it past Ottawa net-minder, Craig Anderson. It was an impressive display of talent and the belief in the talent to dominate the puck and use his abilities to help his team win.

kane playing in a hockey game

How can you learn from Patrick’s confidence and make yourself a better player?

One of the key areas I work on with any athlete including hockey players at all levels – is confidence. Understanding it and building it. Confidence is a player’s bullet-proof vest. It is for Patrick Kane and it can be for you.

What is Confidence?

Well… it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions… and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.

You know the feeling of confidence… you’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing and you know you can do it.

You also know the other feeling… you just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing and you’re not quite sure.

player hunched over on the ice

“I’ve Lost My Confidence.”

When my phone rings, players or agents on the other end, voice panicked, it’s often them telling me the player has “lost their confidence”. If it’s a hockey player, the player is struggling to perform when it counts, has lost the scoring touch or maybe gripping the stick too tight.

I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in elite leagues in the world and have risen to the top in hockey. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the spiral downwards begins from there.

And, this is where players get confused. Confidence requires some understanding – and some work. Sports and life is about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/ emotional game is like your physical practice (skating, passing, shooting etc.) – do the work and it will pay off.

Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?

So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.

And this perspective can help you.

Great players are proactive with their confidence. When Patrick Kane or other dominant players are playing well, you can be sure they remind themselves that they have done it before and they have built the foundation at all levels since they were young players to handle any situation at the level they are playing at – including the NHL. Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many), all the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others. This is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a hockey player. Proactive confidence is a choice that you are relying on a solid foundation and are sustainably confident. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.

On the other hand…

Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive Confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances/ difficulties will overcome your successes/ support and crack your hockey “foundation”. In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures. I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Hockey players also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way – coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.

Does this sound familiar to you?

I see this everyday – even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears and a few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done – there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take full responsibility for their confidence – knowing they have control over it.

This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.

goalie making a save

Building Your Confidence

It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation.

What can you do to work on your confidence and build it?

  1. Preparation – “build it and it will come” – it is a secure feeling skating around in the warm-up knowing you’ve put the work and effort in – in each part of your game – to deal with the situations you’ll have on the ice. Make your practice functional – related to the situations you’ll need on the ice. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
  2. Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation”.
  3. Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand vs. something you don’t. Know yourself well in order to understand what you can and can’t do when it counts.
  4. Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
  5. Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the steps in place to get there – there is a sense of security that you are on the right track. Knowing exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there builds confidence.
  6. Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities. Be your own best friend and speak to yourself well.
  7. Focus on your good shifts, not the bad ones. You’ll have good shifts and not so good ones in a game. Evaluate why poor shifts don’t go well after the game – but focus on your great shifts during the game and build on the energy from the good shifts.
  8. Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Get a little better each day through disciplined work in practice. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.
  9. Finally – have fun! Great players enjoy themselves on the ice and love the game. When you enjoy something, you usually do it well.

What is one of the key things you can do to be a better hockey player?

Build your confidence.

Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a player, but, this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life – business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in. Consider it an investment in your future. Confidence may be the single greatest asset for you as a hockey player.

Just Play!

Use the Think Box and Play Box to Play Your Best

If you are a hockey player, you know that overthinking on the ice causes problems. Too many thoughts lead to hesitation, confusion and a lack of uncertainty in your abilities on the ice.

So, I’d like to introduce you to a strategy that might help you get into a nice playing frame of mind. The strategy was initially developed by my friends Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott – world-class golf coaches – using the Think Box and Play Box with leading professional golfers. For you, the Think Box and Play Box is a practical approach for your hockey routine to help you use your thinking brain to your advantage, introduce you to your “supercomputer” and let all of your training, coaching and experience do the work and allow you play the way you are capable of – using your well-developed instincts.

In all of the work I do with some of the world’s leading athletes, including professional players in the NHL, we’re always working toward the idea of “just playing” or “just play”. Take out the interference, narrow the focus and allow talent, coaching and training to hit its mark.

The Supercomputer and the Calculator

You see, you want one of the world’s most complex supercomputers, your subconscious mind, to run the show when you play. This supercomputer contains everything about you, your experiences, your memories and can do a million things at once. It seamlessly runs all of your body’s systems and functions beneath your consciousness. For perspective, it is estimated it is 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious thinking brain.

Conversely, you want the calculator, your thinking brain or prefrontal cortex, to stay out of the way. It is slow and weak and can only process a small amount of information at one time. The tendency for athletes is to overload this thinking brain with so many thoughts that you hesitate, get confused and don’t allow the supercomputer to run the show. This is what you commonly know as overthinking. In high performance, when many things are happening at once and the landscape is constantly shifting, there is no place for slow processing – especially in a fast game like the game of hockey.

So, instead of responding to what’s in front of you on the ice with your well developed instincts and enjoying the game – your thinking brain gets in the way, you become anxious and too many thoughts in the calculator short circuit your performance…

“Why didn’t I take the shot?”
“Where should I be?”
“Should I jump in or not?”

Sound familiar?

The Think Box and the Play Box

I’d like you to consider a strategy that you can use in your game that will allow you to use your supercomputer and keep the calculator in check.

Think box model

Before you jump on the ice from the bench – you will from now on be in the Think Box. In the Think Box you can consider coach suggestions, review the last shift, think about what you want to execute on the ice. You want to distill all of this down to one key thought for the thinking brain.

players in the think box (bench)

When your time to hit the ice arrives, immediately when you pass through the gate from the bench to the ice or jump over the boards, you are now in the “Play Box” where your supercomputer or subconscious is in charge. You are on autopilot trusting your instincts, experience and training. Once you get into the Play Box (the ice), keep one thought in the thinking brain to get things started in a positive way – and then just play and allow the subconscious to run the show. It knows what to do – trust that everything you need is there!

So, consider the Think Box and Play Box for your games. When you’re in the Think Box, getting instructions from your coach and getting ready to jump on the ice – put one, simple key thought in your thinking brain to help your shift. When you cross the line onto the ice and enter the Play Box, trust your supercomputer containing all of your training and experience to make the adjustments and run the show.

I think you’ll find that “just playing” will lead to better performance, take out the indecision and help you enjoy your game that much more.

Emotions Run The Show in Hockey Performance

Build Emotional Muscle for High Performance

All performance areas are similar, if you can manage your emotions when the pressure rises, you have a chance to do well, if you can’t you probably won’t. If you don’t have an answer for your emotions, you may struggle to perform to the best of your ability, or play as well as you’d like.

I know in my own professional sports career; negative emotions were a major cause of grief. I just didn’t have the answers when emotions spiraled downward sometimes escalating from hesitation to confusion to frustration and even anger. I was continually knocked off my focus by lingering negative emotions, and in my opinion, it was a game-changing factor in an inconsistent career.

I think we can all agree that hockey is a difficult and an emotional sport. Emotions are a major part in how you will play.


Three main reasons…

  1. Distractions everywhere to stir emotions. Teammates, competitors, coaches, parents, fans all contribute to losing your personal focus and stirring emotion.
  2. Your emotions impact those around you. You have to be at your best and be aware of your emotions because those emotions not only impact you but can be transferred to your teammates and affect their performance.
  3. Chemicals don’t help. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that are a part of physical, aggressive sports don’t help you make clear decisions and keep calm.

Check Your Emotional Muscles

How prepared are you to deal with the “emotional hazards” in hockey? How much “emotional muscle” do you think you have?

Before I explain some simple biology about emotion in hockey, and give you a few ideas to help, click here to take a quick quiz and check the level of your “emotional muscle” to see where you are.

Chances are you need to build your emotional muscles to get to the next level in your game. Working on your technical skills and physical skills is important, but building emotional muscles will help you leverage all of your talent, work and efforts.

line fight between pit and phi

So Let’s Begin…

If you find emotions might be keeping you from better performance, a little understanding about performance and the brain may help you. After all, performance starts in the mind.

Some great work by Dr. Joseph Ledoux of the Centre for Neural Science, New York University and Dr. Daniel Goleman – a Harvard educated Psychologist and author of “Emotional Intelligence” has helped highlight the importance and role of the emotional brain in performance in corporate leadership — and now in sports.

The Alligator and the Computer

Generally, two sections of the brain are important to your play. To keep it simple, let’s call them the alligator and the computer. The alligator, or the emotional brain, is the ancient part that has protected human beings from danger through time. It is what leads to “fight or flight.” When threats arise and you need to escape trouble, the alligator kicks in.

The computer, or the thinking brain, makes the decisions. When the alligator perceives a threat and starts snapping, the computer decides on the level of the threat and the action. Is it important enough to respond?

What does this mean to you and your play on the ice?

When survival was the daily priority for human beings and reacting to threats was a constant reality, the alligator was a caveman’s best friend. But threats are generally not life threatening today. You’re a hockey player, not a caveman, and your brain can’t differentiate between a life-threatening situation and what’s happening on the ice. Your alligator’s threats are a bad shift, a chirp from a competitor, a bad call from a referee, a bad goal and other hockey “threats”.

line fight

The Little Troublemaker

There’s a little, almond-shaped part of your brain, the control center of the alligator, called the amygdala. It’s the troublemaker, pushing you around in the ring and causing you to lose your cool. Even if you play like Sidney Crosby in one game, the overstimulated alligator can make you play like a complete rookie in the next.

When the amygdala “hijacks” your brain and the alligator overrides your computer, the computer responds to the threat, and your ability to reason and think logically are reduced. Your working memory becomes less efficient while your blood pressure, adrenaline and hormone levels rise.

Some great work by Harvard trained Brain Scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor highlights that we can manage responses. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of your negative emotion dissolves from the bloodstream and the automatic response is over. The emotion is expressed. So, showing some emotion after a bad shift or game isn’t bad. After all, you are human.

But, what’s important is if you allow the negative emotion to heat up past those 90 seconds, you have chosen to allow the circuit to continue to run. Those 90 seconds gives your brain time to engage the computer which has an inhibitory circuit for the alligator (amygdala). You can then choose a more “performance-friendly” response.
If you allow the circuit to run and the negative emotion to continue, it can take 3-to-4 hours for the hormones to clear your system, with the possibility of more hijacks being triggered along the way.

So, simply, the control center of the alligator can undo all of your practice and preparation and sabotage your performance. If you’ve ever heard the saying “I was so mad I couldn’t think straight,” this means the alligator is in charge, the computer is over-run and rational decision-making goes out the window. You might know the feeling during a game when things start going south and you can’t reverse it.

a brain with an arm flexing

Emotional discipline is like a muscle you can build. In order to build your emotional muscle, here are a few simple ideas that can help you keep the alligator in its cage and make sure the computer is making clear, stress-free decisions.

Know Yourself, Know You!

Clearly understand your own strengths, limitations and triggers in your game. What do you do well, what is not so comfortable for you, and what bothers you and triggers a negative reaction? Identify your strengths, limitations and triggers by writing them down.

A lack of awareness can push you to do things you can’t do on the ice. How many times have you tried to do things on the ice that you know you can’t do, but tried them anyway and ended up frustrated and frazzled? Clearly understand what you can and can’t do and always to play to strengths.

The 90-Second Rule

Tame the alligator with the 90-second rule. The ability to notice what’s going on as it arises, and to slow down before you respond, is a crucial emotional skill. Brain experts tell us an emotion is expressed in about 90 seconds. It’s fine as a player to feel and express the emotion within reason in that 90-second window. But, when you feel the emotion building, take a breath and be aware. This awareness will help you control your feelings and soften them before they become damaging to your performance.

Stay in the Moment to Stay Calm

The future and past are distractions for you and stir emotion. Unfortunately, on the ice there is little you can do about either one. Carrying the past with you will also distract from the current moment and can have a major impact on your execution. Your destiny lies in the present moment. While the future is where your goals and achievements live, you achieve them through playing in the moment.

Emotions are the engine in the vehicle of performance, and the skills associated with building emotional muscle are indispensable to achieving competitive advantage for you on the ice.

If you want to enjoy hockey more, activate your potential to bring your game to the next level, and be more effective in everything you do, spend some time building your emotional muscles.

Be sure to check out our YouTube Page for more videos such as our Think Box video.

Scoring Key

If you answered Yes to …

  • 0 – You are in control of your emotions on the ice
  • 1-3 – Some work needed in the training room
  • 4-7 – Your thoughts and emotions are getting the best of you on the ice
  • 8 and above – Your performance and enjoyment of hockey are at risk!

Do You Feel the Pressure?

Does pressure in hockey really exist?

Well, according to some researchers and experts, it really doesn’t. It’s all dreamed up by you to make it difficult for you to perform when it counts. According to a noted study (Beilock 2010) people create pressure for themselves. The only way we can ever experience ‘pressure’ is to create it in our own minds. It is a product of our imagination. Another research paper explains that if we experience ‘pressure’ it is because we are projecting an imaginary view of the future (Markman et al 2008).

Hockey Rink Fog

But, have these researchers ever played in a big game or had crowds of people screaming and cheering -anticipating something great? Or, have they ever acknowledged the pressure and used the energy as a positive tool that elevates their performance so they go beyond where they thought they could go?

Maybe not.

What is Pressure?

Well, the general definition gives us a good picture of what pressure is… “the feeling of stressful urgency caused by the necessity of doing or achieving something, especially with limited time.”

Do you know this feeling?

You practice and practice in a controlled environment you or coaches have created… some skating drills, shooting drills, watching some video and casually working on different areas of your game. All good.

But, then you arrive at the rink for a big game, everyone and everything seems more serious, your time and space is taken away – and the feelings of your controlled practice environment now seem slightly out of your control.

Sound familiar?

Where Does Pressure Come from?

Pressure can come from both within you or from the outside. Your own expectations are often sources of pressure where you expect a lot (sometimes too much) from yourself. After all, you’ve worked hard, spent hours practicing and would like a good result. Expectations can also come from the outside. With young players, parents can pile on what kind of results they may be expecting. Coaches can expect results too. Any kind of expectations invites pressure for players.

huge hockey crowd

There are a number of sources that raise the boiling point and can give you the feeling of pressure…

  • Thinking about the result of the game (the outcome) and not focusing enough on “how” you are doing it on each shift (your process)
  • Timing – you have five minutes left in the game and the team needs a goal
  • I’m not ready – your practice did not go well and you don’t feel ready
  • You’re working on something new – will it work when it counts?
  • The environment around you – things are a little more serious than they were in practice
  • Media and audience effects – if you are playing in a big event there’s lots of drama and opinions all around you
  • Doubting your own abilities – can I do this?
  • Perception of importance – wow this is a big game – the spotlight is on me!

What the Best Do

I have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading athletes, who are constantly surrounded by “pressure” and we talk about it often.

The great players all acknowledge pressures – but work on creating the best approaches for themselves to best deal with it and maximize their abilities. The very best I work with welcome pressures – it means they have the privilege of playing for something worthwhile and the opportunity to test the hours and hours of work they’ve put in to get to where they are. Great players acknowledge the reality of pressure and don’t pretend it’s not there. Pressure, for them, is in perspective and always positive. Consider Jonathan Toews of the Chicago BlackHawks, who with teammate Patrick Kane, signed an eight year, $84 million contract in the summer of 2014 and knows the pressure attached to it…

Jonathan Toews - Captain Serious

“I think front and center is the contracts with Kane and I that are kicking in, and that’s where everybody’s kind of looking,” Toews said at the Blackhawks convention. “I understand that. The two of us have worked hard to own up to that, and I think the pressure will be on us maybe more than it has in past years because of that fact. I think we’ve been up for challenges like that before, and we’re ready for this one, too.”

How to Best Create Positive Pressure for You

Acknowledging that pressure exists and turning it into a positive is your first step forward. You can also better prepare yourself for pressure situations by following a few key steps that will, like the greats, keep pressure in perspective and use it to your advantage. Here are a few ideas to start…

  1. Close the gap between practice and play. For most players, the level of attention and focus is completely different. Consider a more structured routine for your practice. Apply approaches to reach targets and goals. For example, at the end of practice, challenge yourself to accomplish something and don’t leave the ice until you do it.
  2. Thinking ahead to what you can’t control creates fear… and additional pressure. Keep your focus on each shift and executing to the best of your ability. The current shift is what you can truly control.
  3. Align your expectations with your abilities right now. What is reasonable for you right now? You might overestimate your abilities sometimes and even you can’t live up to them. This creates additional pressure. The expectations of others are not within your control and should not be a reasonable source of pressure for you.
  4. Build confidence proactively. Your confidence is built over time from the ground up. Allowing little dips in performance to impact your overall confidence will add pressure that will impact your performance.
  5. Stick to the plan. Develop a plan that plays to your strengths and don’t deviate from it unless conditions really change. The best players in the world relentlessly stick to their plans and adapt as needed.
  6. Enjoy the environment & activity around you but remember that focusing on you and not on the drama or others around you is what leads to high performance.
  7. Remember why you play. This seems simple – but it’s important. Hockey and sports is not life or death. You play because you love it and enjoy it. Embrace the opportunity to feel the privilege of playing, competing and putting yourself in a position to do something meaningful.

In summary…

Does pressure really exist? Yes.

Should you be afraid of it? No.

Can you use it to your advantage and become a better player if you do? Yes.

Start accepting pressure, use it in a positive way and enjoy the feeling of having meaning in your game.

6 Fundamental Steps to Building Your Hockey Mind

How Can You Become a More Mentally & Emotionally Sound Player?

A big problem I see with young hockey players is that most players understand the importance of the mental and emotional game to performance, but don’t know how to develop it. There’s a lot of work required to build the necessary mental skills, just like there’s a lot of work that goes into being a good skater or positional player.

Similar to the physical game, there’s a lot of information out there about the mental/emotional game that offers short-term tips, tricks and shortcuts. While those ploys are seductive, they aren’t a long-term solution.

Instead, you need to build a strong hockey mind from which you can build upon. Building the right foundation and then shaping that based on your strengths, limitations and triggers is the way to create sustainable performance and a stable mental/emotional platform.

So what are some initial steps you can take to work on your mental game each day so that you build it over time and it becomes a core strength?

6 Steps to Building Your Mental and Emotional Game

Follow these steps to start building a strong mental game in hockey…

  1. What’s your plan? Create a plan for exactly what you want and what you want to achieve in the game. What would you like to do and what might be the steps to accomplish it? So many players have no direction, no timelines and do not know what they want – so there is constant frustration and a feeling like they are on a treadmill, going nowhere. Have a plan and a long-term direction.
  2. Plays Graphic

  3. Why do you play? It seems simple, but it is an important question to support your plan. The best, most authentic reasons for playing are because you love the game and enjoy the feeling you get from it. If these are your reasons, keep them fresh in your mind and be careful not to get caught up in all the negative little details that can distract you from these genuine purposes.
  4. Assess, assess, assess. Knowing where you are is important in taking the steps to improvement. We assess every player to understand where he or she might be mentally/emotionally and it provides a starting point in creating a development plan. Do you know exactly what you need mentally/emotionally so you can create your own plan?
  5. Reflect. It’s very important to use the information you are creating in your game to always move forward. Take the lessons from each practice session and each round and evaluate what specific areas need work. The best players take at least one lesson from every practice session or round and apply it moving forward. Ask yourself what you learned from each of your sessions and rounds and how this information can be adapted moving forward.
  6. Wayne Gretzky

  7. Create your own “emotional caddie.” Build your own positive support system – an environment within yourself that you can play in. The tendency for many players is to be negative and self-critical. Learn to build a conscience and voice that supports what you do and is your own best friend. Download my book, free to you, to learn more about building your emotional caddie. See for download: Chapters 7 and 8 will guide you.
  8. Always build confidence. Understand what confidence is, threats to your confidence, when you might have confidence and when you don’t, and create a plan to proactively build it. Confidence is built over time, not something that varies from game to game. Fear is often the antithesis of confidence. What causes fear in your game and prevents you from having a positive, proactive, confident approach?

There are many skills required to having a solid, positive, authentic mental/emotional approach. Like skating and the physical skills – fundamentals are the key. They are in the mental and emotional game too! With a solid foundation and structure, you will still encounter the unavoidable low points, but you will have the skills to navigate these points and move out of them quickly, leading to more consistent performance on the ice.

7 Ways to Improve Focus on the Ice

Focus is a big buzzword today… in everything. Because of the infinite number of distractions around us, including advancements in technology, our attention spans seem to be shrinking to the point where it is difficult for people to keep their minds on a task for more than a few seconds.

I really became interested in the idea of focus while reflecting on my professional golf career and realizing that I struggled with focus and keeping my mind and energy centered on my plan to win professional tournaments. I found that my emotions would knock me off my focus (emotions gone wild) and hurt my chances of being a consistent contender. Negative emotions like frustration and anger wreaked havoc and often kept my focus on the past, exactly where I didn’t want it. The real competition was always inside of me. You might know the feeling — make a mistake on the ice or have a bad shift and you can find it difficult to get your mind back in the game and create the right internal environment to play well in the rest of the game or show your potential on the ice. Some call it being “frazzled”.

Dan Goleman, author of Focus:The Hidden Driver of Excellence explains that we’re also prone to emotions driving focus when our minds are wandering, when we are distracted or when we have information overload — or all three. Think about how this might apply to you in a typical game.

Sidney Crosby knows the benefits of working on his mental/emotional skills – and the importance of the right focus. Crosby is always the target of other teams. They know if they can slow down Sidney, and throw him off of his game, they can slow down the Penguins. Crosby is aware and has his focus in the right place – “for me, I’ve learned that the best thing to focus on is the team you play for and yourself… and what you need to specifically do on the ice.”

Emotions out of the rink impacts performance in it.

Something that’s interesting when I work with high-level athlete clients, including hockey players: their focus is often muddled by events that have happened off of the ice, not on it. Something may have happened at home, or they are worried about something else in their lives that creates anxiety and hinders them from bringing full focus to the ice. For this reason, attention must be given to what’s going on off the ice. Those emotions must be acknowledged and expressed, helping to create a clear mind to focus on the task at hand — using your abilities on the ice.

What causes you to lose your focus?

Focus is certainly one of the keys to performance excellence. Many performance problems, including a lack of self-confidence, can be traced to problems in the area of focus. The more you lose your focus, the more difficult performance on the ice will be.

What causes you to lose focus on the ice? Could it be players on the other team, off the ice distractions, coaches yelling, too much emphasis on the outcome (the score of the game), unacceptable mistakes, a bad goal, a bad shift, unforced errors? Everyone is different — you might have other factors that impact your focus. As a little exercise, make a list of the things that can distract you in a game.

A few ideas to improve your focus.

We all know that functional practice is critical to great performance on the ice and in any sport. Part of your practice should be working on your mental/ emotional game, like the great players. Similar to skating skills, shooting skills or tactical work, time and effort is required to build your mental and emotional “muscles” and use all of your abilities.


Here are seven steps to help you build those muscles and improve your focus on the ice:

  1. You must be aware of what’s going on outside of the rink emotionally so the negative energy doesn’t disrupt your focus in it. Express emotions created outside of the rink before you arrive in the rink.
  2. Construct a routine that works for you — simple, comfortable, reliable actions that put your mind on the task in training and when it counts. This creates consistency and predictability in your behavior and begins your process of performing on ice.
  3. If you find yourself drifting, bring yourself back to the center by asking yourself “where’s my focus.” This will create awareness and help you keep your mind on the task.
  4. Accept that there are things in hockey you can and can’t control. Identify what they are and only put focus on those things within your control. Consider this carefully and understand the difference.
  5. Consider a very short, quiet session each day focusing on your breath. In this mental fitness session, the more you catch your mind wandering off and bringing it back to concentrating on the breath, the more your concentration muscles strengthen.
  6. Eat high-protein, low-carb meals before practicing or playing. Carbs can cause quick crashes while proteins become brain fuel more slowly, providing a steady energy level helping to sustain focus.
  7. Focus declines quickly when you are tired, and there’s an epidemic of sleep deprivation. Enough sleep can make a difference and help keep your mind on the game.

Focus is a big area in your ability to play well on the ice … and in everything you do. Get to know what allows you to be focused on important tasks. This will help you maximize your abilities and take advantage of all the work you do to become the player you’d like to be.

Beyond the Game – What’s Next?

What the heck do I do now?

A normal question athletes ask themselves when the applause stops and the lights go out.

Watching the extreme example of Chris Nilan of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens in the show “Gladiators” recently on TV, and working in the field with active and retiring athletes, I understand the potential missteps and traps for an athlete who dedicates the first part of their working life to elite sports.

It’s not easy throwing yourself into something for years, working hard each day toward your “dream” and then have it taken away. It can dissolve in a variety of ways… through injury… through lack of success or through retirement after some success.

However it ends – it hurts and it’s not easy.

And, there are dangers, as we hear about everyday – athletes unable to make the jump to the “real world” and struggle to move on. Depression and other mental health issues can be common among retiring athletes.

Athletes have to clearly keep the following realities top of mind…

Your athletic career will end and probably sooner than you think.

The average athletic career (in pro sports) is less than 5 years – very few elite athletes will compete past 30 years old.

Joe Sakic Retirement Quote

There are few guarantees in sports.

The vast majority of athletes will not be financially secure when they retire from sport.

So, what can you as an athlete do to make the successful jump from sports and successfully launch into the next stage of your life? After working with Professional Athletes and Olympians and advising transitioning athletes, here are a few ideas that athletes can consider to successfully make the jump from sports to life after sports.

  1. Do not wait until you retire to start thinking – “what’s next”. That question must be answered during your athletic career – early preparation for your next steps is critical. Contrary to what you might think, athletes who do consider their lives after sport also tend to be more successful in their sport career.
  2. Take some time to heal emotionally. Losing a sports career is a loss and should be grieved. This will help you to let go. But, don’t wait too long before starting into a new challenge.
  3. Always remember that what you do is not who you are. A person is constantly shifting their identity in life and your shift from professional or elite sports is one of your shifts. You are capable of great things in a variety of areas of life – it’s your job to identify your strengths and identify your passions.
  4. Understand how you can leverage your athletic career moving forward – what keys (lessons, celebrity, behaviors, networks) can you leverage to get a great start in your new challenge?
  5. Network!!! People provide opportunities in life so it is critical you develop your network while you are competing in professional or elite sports – when fans and others are most interested in

    your progress. Get everyone’s business card, show interest in what others are doing, involve others in your career and get involved in the community. Create opportunities for yourself while you are competing.

  6. Create your personal brand. Tell your story and build your brand. Part of your story will be you as the athlete – a compelling part of your life story that will interest many.
  7. Join a support network with those who can understand your challenge and/or find a mentor who has “been there done that”. The network and mentor will be invaluable for you to test ideas, provide feedback, learn “what’s out there” and empathize with your emotional challenges.

Have a plan, be organized and don’t wait too long to start the process thinking about your next passion. You can’t play forever and there are many opportunities out there for you to leverage great behaviors you have developed in sport and explore new talents.