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Practice Well

This is an excerpt from Hockey Tough-2nd Edition by Saul L. Miller.

The message throughout Hockey Tough is that practice builds confidence and it also sharpens skills. Practice helps you know that you are physically and mentally prepared, that you have the energy, the focus, the skill, and the determination to execute your ABCs.


Andrew Cogliano, a smart, speedy NHL winger, uses practice to build confidence and improve his game readiness. "When I practice well I play well. I like to work on my strengths. I especially like to work on things that I want to improve in my game; things like being a little more patient, holding pucks a little more, and shooting accurately. Doing these kinds of things well in practice builds my confidence and works subconsciously on helping me know I’m ready to play great."


If you are physically ready and have practiced well, then it comes down to the mental game. To the three rights: right focus, right feelings, and right attitude.


Andrew Cogliano is a speedy, effective two-way winger with the Anaheim Ducks who relies on practice to build confidence and sharpen skills.
Andrew Cogliano is a speedy, effective two-way winger with the Anaheim Ducks who relies on practice to build confidence and sharpen skills.

Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire


Right Focus

I usually recommend that a player begin a pregame process by reminding himself as follows:

  1. Know that you are a good player:
    • I’m smart (I read the game, I make good decisions, I play the system).
    • I’m fast (I keep my feet moving, I’m quick to pucks, I use my speed).
    • I’m skilled (I have good hands, I have an excellent shot, I make good passes).
    • I’m physical (I win the boards and the battles, I finish checks hard).
    • I compete (I’m aggressive, I’m hunting every shift).

  2. Know your job. Understand the game plan and what you are expected to do on the ice in a variety of game situations. Go over your ABCs. See yourself performing well in the situations you will be facing in the game (e.g., breakouts, crossing center ice, attacking their D, playing in their end, transitions, picking up my check, defending in our end, PK or PP). Discuss any uncertainties with a coach.

  3. Visualize what you do when you play your best. Use mental rehearsal to see yourself performing well. Run through the When I Play My Best exercise. With mental practice, your reactions become more automatic.


    When I asked Sean Burke, an 18-season NHL veteran goalie and an NHL goalie coach, for any specific advice on preparation and confidence, his response applied not just to goalies but to all players. "I always felt that the mental side of it came from the physical preparation. If you are stepping into a game and you don’t feel you’ve put the time and work into it in practice, if you haven’t practiced well, if you haven’t done all the little things that you need to do, you know, like doing your workouts off the ice, eating properly, getting your rest, it’s hard to be mentally confident especially at the NHL level. But even at the 15, 16, 17 age level it’s incredibly competitive, and preparation is the one area that you totally control. You know the things you need to do. And if you don’t know what to do, there’s enough good examples out there, and there are enough people and coaches you can talk to. And if you put the time and effort in to prepare properly, that’s where you draw your confidence from. It’s where you draw your ability to step into games and realize, okay, now I can compete and have fun with it because I put in the time and I’m prepared."


    When I spoke with Chris Pronger, an NHL Hall of Fame defenseman, about optimal pregame preparation, his response was sensible. He spoke about doing visualization and creating a positive frame of mind. "Preparation is a personal matter. Some players start preparing the morning of the game. Others start in the afternoon, and still others don’t prepare until right before the game. A player should find out what works for him, then do it before every game."


    I’m frequently asked, "When should I run through my mental preparation?" I agree with Chris Pronger’s comment. It’s a personal thing. At the pro level, I often recommend that after a player has his pregame lunch, he relaxes, does some conscious breathing and positive focusing, and then takes a nap. Some players don’t like to nap. Others find mentally rehearsing their performance fires them up and makes napping difficult. For those, I suggest they run through their mental rehearsal process after napping. Some prefer to do some positive focusing at the rink.


    Along with imagery, be aware of your thinking. Be a positive self-talker. Remember to change the channel or park any negative thoughts. Stay on your positive power channel. Before, during, and after the game, talk positively to yourself and your teammates. Acknowledge your ability, and affirm your successes and their successes.

  4. Set goals for the game. Pick a couple of things you are going to make happen in the game. Gina Kingsbury was an NCAA star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and an NCAA coach. When I spoke with her about preparation she said, "My mental game was something I needed to work on to reach my dreams and goals of playing for the national team. For me, I would overanalyze and overthink things. I would be in a game and I would judge everything I did. Am I doing it right? Am I playing well? I worked with a sport psychologist, and he said you need to have 3 goals coming into the game. I would usually show up with 10 or 12 goals, but I had to cut it down to 3. I’d write them down on a piece of paper. The first would be something to do with a positive mental attitude. The second would be a feeling I want to feel. And the third was more tactical. I want to get five shots on net. I want to keep my feet moving. I want to be fast. I want to bring speed and so forth.


    "I could think about these 3 goals throughout the day. But once I got to the rink I would park those thoughts, put those goals away. I’d put the note in my mouthguard case, and that would mean I couldn’t think about it. I could only play the game now and not worry about the rest. And after the game I could visit those goals and judge if I accomplished them or not. I couldn’t think about it during the game. The parking of it really helped me because I knew at that point I had prepared myself as much as I could and I just had to go out and play and have fun."

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