23 Jan Mental Focus: 5 Strategies to Being More Consistent
Mental focus starts with admitting that you are not!
Like the start of any improvement, mental focus revolves around an analysis of what we currently do to prepare for battle. Many coaches attribute poor performance to the inability to execute fundamental physical skills, but as playoffs approach, and consistency becomes increasingly important, mental focus training must come to the forefront!
This is why we need to have a close look at:
5 ways improved mental focus will lead to more consistent hockey:
1) Mental Focus =Pre-Game Routine
Ask any athlete and they will tell you that the key to consistent performance is developing a consistent pre-game routine. The transition from Atom to Pee Wee hockey revolves around a young player’s ability to develop a “way” of doing things before the game that lets them energize and achieve the proper level of performance arousal (see point 2 for more). Players cannot just show up to the rink, gear up and see what happens. Mental focus starts with a plan of action that the player walks through each game. Below is an example of a plan one of my minor Bantam players developed a few years back after weeks of reviewing and optimizing:
5:30 Eat dinner, lots of water
6:00 Go for walk outside with stick and ball
6:20 Load car, listen to motivational speeches (start to energize)
6:30 Drive to game with parents and listen to music (think about last time we played these guys)
7:00 Get to the rink, tape sticks, joke around with the boys, get loose
7:10 Warm-Up with team (serious, focus on getting a sweat going, feeling muscles working, feeling strong)
7:20-7:45 Dress and talk casual, listen to music (think about how I want to play in all zones)
7:50 Chalk talk, listen and visualize what coach is saying
8:00 Go time! Remember the feeling of my last great game and get it back in my stomach (feel just nervous enough)
2) Mental Focus = Visualization to Energize
A second thing many elite athletes will share about their mental focus routines is the importance of recreating past successes in their minds and using it to ignite or fuel the present. It is important that hockey players learn at a young age to take a bit of quiet time to remember the smells, sights and feelings of what the last big game felt like for them. Recreating things like the smell of the Zamboni, the brightness of the lights, the cold on their skin, the exhilarating adrenalin after a big goal etc can bring the body right back to that level of arousal or being “in the zone”. A lot of athletes that do this sort of visualization report that after a while, they are able to taste the Gatorade or feel the coldness on their skin as if they are really there. It takes a while, but learning to use visualization to energize the body can make a huge difference is how ready a player is to hit the ice!
3) Mental Focus = Breathing and Relaxation
There is not one high performance athlete that will fail to mention the importance of focusing on breathing before a game. We all take it for granted because we feel it’s our lungs responsibility, but focus on breathing before a game can be the difference between tensing up and missing the pivotal open net one timer and releasing a howitzer top cheddar! As a player gets dressed, they may not realize that they are taking short, shallow breaths (especially if there is too much laughing and fooling around). These breaths do not allow the lungs and diaphragm to open up for maximal oxygen uptake. Poor oxygen uptake means, malnourished muscles from the get go. Also, the art of breathing deeply, opens up the muscles of the upper body and core, versus shallow breathes that actually act to shut down motor neurons.
4) Mental Focus = Body Maintenance
Being “In-the-Zone” is a matter of preventive measures as much as it is active engagement. A hockey player must make sure they take the time to stretch, eat proper meals throughout the day and most important of all hydrate! One of my old coaches used to tell us “If you are peeing yellow before the game, you aren’t ready to go”. We used to think it was silly, but looking at the studies about hydration and physiological performance, it’s far from comical. Hydration actually starts at the last practice before a game… Athletes need to make sure they replace every lb of sweat with one pint of water! Pro athletes weigh in before and after games and practices to track water loss in order to re hydrate properly. Young hockey players should fill their water bottles 3/4 way and sip at them the whole way home. Trainers should never keep the bottles and empty them out after practice. The players should be encouraged to drink for mental focus!
5) Mental Focus = Winning the Warm-Up
No sense activating the mind if the body is still cold! Body temperature is hydration’s twin sister! They both work in tandem together. I stress the importance of focusing during warm ups all the time with my player’s. It take as a while for them to buy in (they see it like recess) but it’s worth it to keep harping on it as part of improving mental focus! My coaching philosophy is that getting 2 points starts with winning the warm up! Warming up harder than the other team sets the tone. From a psychological standpoint, it lets the other team know that stealing 2 points from you is going to be near impossible.
One book that really highlights the importance that Pro Hockey players place on psychological preparation is “7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players-By Brett Henning”. It is an awesome book for any parent to guide their young player through regardless of age. Click on the picture link to check it out, it’s one of the favorites on my eReader for sure!