Today is my 30th birthday, and as a special gift to you, I wanted to share this interview that I did about the mental game in girls hockey with my friend Kevin Neeld, who is a former elite hockey player and an off-ice player development coach as well. Enjoy!
KN: Kim, I’d like to start off by asking you a question that a teacher of mine once asked me: What percentage of hockey performance do you think is mental?
I have two answers to this. In the beginning, when players are still acquiring basic skills, like skating, passing and shooting, that you might be at a 50-50% split between mental and physical. Once players have the ability to play the game without having to consciously think about performing the physical skills, I’d say we shift closer to a 70% mental and 30% physical split. I’ve played with and against many players who were great practice players – but as soon as they had to think on the move during the course of their game, their skill all but disappears.
KN: I think we all have played with players like that! Considering that such a high percentage of performance is mental, what aspect of hockey players’ mentality do you notice is preventing them from playing their best?
I would say the two biggest challenges for players on the mental side of the game are a lack of confidence and a negative attitude. The lack of confidence issue I see more in girls hockey than in boys hockey, but it is a big issue in both games. Players constantly downplay their accomplishments and allow the one or two little mistakes they made overshadow their overall performance. I had a player score her ?rst goal last season (she actually scored a hat-trick) and yet she was angry after the game because of one stupid pass she made on the power-play.
Players will say things like, “I sucked today” or “I played the worst game ever” when they make a few mistakes out there. Hockey is a game of mistakes and I can count on one hand the number of “perfect games” I played in my 10-year career. I always made a few mistakes – the important thing is to move on as quickly as possible and focus on the next shift. The negative attitude issue is huge in both boys and girls hockey. It drives me crazy when players say, “I can’t do that”, “I can’t shoot a high backhand”, “I can’t score”. Using the word “can’t” automatically puts you in a negative mindset and you basically give yourself permission to under-perform on that skill. I’m not saying players need to be 100% positive all the time, but there is never an instance where positivity will hurt you – and negativity always will.
KN: I can’t agree more. I’m an outspoken supporter of unconditional optimism, in sports and in life. I know you went into great detail about this in your book “Best Hockey Season Ever“, fill us in on what hockey players can do to correct these performance-limiting attitudes?
Players need to own their accomplishments and own their strengths. There is nothing wrong with saying “Thanks” after someone tells you that you played a great game. You aren’t being conceited – you are acknowledging your accomplishment. On the same note, players need to know what they are good at and commit to being the best at those things each and every time they are out on the ice. All too often, players get wrapped up and focus on their weaknesses instead of showcasing their strengths. Don’t get me wrong – players have to improve their weaknesses as well, but they also need to know what they are best at and commit to being the best at those things all the time. The negativity issue is a hard one to fix, but it can be as simple as getting players to stop slamming their stick against the boards in frustration after missing a sure goal. That’s a little step in the right direction that will get them to think about being more positive.
KN: Great point. Taking small steps and cutting back a few negative behaviors is a great way to start improving your playing mentality. Most people are familiar with the fact that an off-ice training program can help improve the strength, speed, power, and conditioning of ice hockey players. I’m a strong believer that these things are just the tip of the iceberg. Do you notice changes in your players’ confidence and mental toughness after a few months of training?
My favorite thing about off-ice training is the psychological benefit it gives players. I know that when I was a young player, I took great pride in the fact that none of the other girls I played with trained as hard as I did off the ice. I may not have been as skilled as them on the ice, but I knew that I was fitter, faster, and stronger. Quite often, when it comes to off-ice training, the most skilled player on the team isn’t the best athlete off the ice. Sometimes it’s the 4th liner who is the most fit. While fitness isn’t the only thing that will get that player better on the ice, the confidence they will gain knowing that they are in the best shape will have tremendous benefits to their performance.
KN: I felt the same way when I trained! As a 13 year-old I got cut from a Bantam Tier II 2nd team! I remember training that whole year just knowing that nobody was working as hard as me off the ice, treating the whole world as my competition. It sounds like that mentality paid off for both of us!
For anyone that hasn’t already looked into this, Kim has put together the most comprehensive resource for youth hockey players that I’ve ever seen. It includes step-by-step formulas to improve your training, nutrition, and mental preparedness. It’s truly a must-have for dedicated hockey players (and coaches!). Click here to read more about how Kim’s Book, “The Best Hockey Season Ever” can start helping you compete at a higher level.
KN: Thanks for taking the time Kim!
My pleasure Kevin.
Keep Working Hard and Dreaming BIG.
~ Coach Kim