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by Rob Barletta  |  Dec 8th, 2016

Mental and Physical Preparation is Key to Hockey Success

The best athletes in the world are the ones who are most prepared. There are two types of preparation: mental and physical. These are two completely different things and if you ask any elite hockey player they will tell you how both of these played a major role in helping them achieve their goals.

In this article I’ll break down the complexity of mental and physical preparation and show you how college and professional players prepare for practices and games leading up to their seasons.  

Physical preparation during the off-season
You need to prepare your body for a physical and mental battle that lasts throughout the long hockey season. Your body is like an engine and it needs to be treated as such. Fueling your body with the right nutrition is vital, along with completing the proper off-season workouts to make sure your body is running at peak potential. Though each player has his individual off-season goals, you should use this period to do 85-90% of your heavy lifting and explosive workouts. In-season workouts should focus on maintaining strength and body weight while keeping up with your conditioning.

Prioritize your workouts and nutrient intake
Heart Trophy nominee John Tavares, captain of the New York Islanders, is notorious for his off-season preparations. Tavares trains five days a week in his off-season with his own professional trainer. Together they have a set workout and nutrition plan in place to prepare Tavares for his NHL season. Their main focus includes Tavares’ lower body, explosive movements, reactions drills and core.

Most hockey experts will tell you that your abdominal (core) area is the main focus when training. Balance and strength while skating come from your core. If you combine a strong lower body (legs) with a powerful core you will be an ox who can drive the puck to the net -- making it harder for players to knock you off your feet.

Your off-season workouts are where you gain your muscle weight, and work on your explosiveness, your reaction speed, as well as core and balance. What about upper body? Well, yes of course hockey players work out their upper bodies too. But they spend more time on the body parts and muscles that translate most closely to their sport. For hockey, that means core, legs and balance.

As for nutrition, Tavares is constantly fueling his body appropriately. Here is what his daily nutrient intake looks like:

Breakfast - Eggs, fruits, almond butter and a plant-based smoothie
Lunch - Steak, kale salad and quinoa
Dinner - Fish and vegetables

Tavares is a well-prepared and well-fueled machine, which is one of the reasons he’s among hockey’s elite players.

  Walpole Express Player

The mental game
You could be the most physically well-prepared player with all the talent in the world and still not excel. It is mental preparation that separates the special few from the pack. Do you have what it takes to play a game in front of 20 college scouts, knowing that every play or decision you make can alter your future?

How about playing in the Beanpot Championship for a hockey mega school like Boston College? Danielle Doherty, head coach of the Walpole Express’ junior woman’s team, has personally felt the mental pressures of both of these situations. Doherty, a member of the BC woman’s hockey team, explains how she would mentally and physically prepare herself for these types of stressful situations:

"After the team did our warm ups I would always do some quick sprints to get my heart rate up. I would then stick handle with a golf ball for a little bit and then I would tape my sticks, which I was a perfectionist about. After I mastered the tape on my sticks I would sit by myself and visualize. With about 20 minutes before we had to be on the ice for warm up, I would go into the locker room and get dressed. I always put my left side stuff on first. Once I was fully dressed, the team and I would always dance to music. Once warm-ups were over I would sit in my stall with my headphones on and mentally prepare for puck drop.”

Individual preparations for game time can come in many different forms. Jon Lounsbury, head coach of the Walpole Express junior men’s, team knows a thing or two about mental preparation in big-time situations. A former professional hockey player, Lounsbury has played in games with 8,000+ fans watching his every stride.

The mental aspect of the game at the professional level has its own unique challenges, as Lounsbury knows well. For instance, there are about 500 qualified free agents worldwide waiting for him to lose his mental focus and make a mistake so they can take his job.

Arriving at the rink everyday and playing well was his job -- a job he had to take seriously if he wanted to continue to receive a paycheck. Here’s what he says about preparation:

“I feel mental preparation played a significant role in my career. I was taught at a young age to prepare before each practice, and practice like I play. Before games I would tape my sticks and go through game scenarios in my head. I would mentally go through each zone on the ice and run through what could potentially happen. For me, it was about mental toughness. Mistakes are going to happen. It's how we adapt and overcome from those mistakes that matters.”

Know your routine
The best coaches will tell you mental preparation starts at practice. Your coaching staff and fellow players know each week what teams you’ll face-off against. Preparing in the days ahead, whether by analyzing video or planning strategy, will give your team the best possible odds of winning.

As a player, you need to find your comfort zone -- what physically and mentally makes you perform at your best. Hockey is a game of habits. Establishing and practicing beneficial daily routines that will help you become the elite player you want to be.

So, whether it’s taking pre-game naps, eating the right meals, training your hardest, putting on those headphones with tunes that get your fired up, or visualizing yourself scoring that big goal, these beneficial habits – the same habits practiced by elite players – will help you excel and potentially reach the highest levels of the sport we all love.