10 Ways to Prepare for a Hockey Game

10 Ways to Prepare for a Hockey Game

I recently had a conversation with a player who I consider mentally tough! He was a tremendous college player at the highest level and is now a multi-year pro playing in the NHL. I was struck by how the internal distractions he faces are consistent for all of us. 

What do I mean by internal distractions? The worries, anxieties, fears, and doubts that all players face.  

This mentally tough player noticed when worries were present and recognized that he needed to redirect his attention to prevent them from interfering with his performance on the ice!

Let me start by saying worry, anxiety, fear, and doubts ARE COMPLETELY NORMAL! 

Players at every level have experienced will continue to experience these feelings. You cannot turn off worry or turn off your brain. Your brain will produce thoughts; that is its job! And, for most of us, about 2/3 of those thoughts will involve worry or doubt! 

That’s because your brain’s job is also to protect you from danger – physical and emotional. So beating yourself up about being nervous is nothing but counterproductive!

The problem with worry is that it raises anxiety, drains energy, and diminishes your performance focus.

Anything that shifts your attention away from fear and moves you to a more productive cycle of thoughts, feelings, and actions will be helpful. 

Here are ten tips that will help players at all levels better prepare for games.


1. Decrease Negative Stress

Try to minimize the negative impact of other stressors in your life, such as academics and interpersonal conflicts. Often this comes down to time and task management. It is doing things that are important well before they become urgent. Take out a calendar and write down all your important activities, events, deadlines. Have a plan to get all your work done well in advance. Control what you control.

2. Park It

Park any non-hockey “stuff” in your room or somewhere outside of the rink, just like you would park a car. You can return to it later, but for now, it is all hockey and all good!

Have a cue that reminds you it is “parked” like closing the door, tapping your desk, or stepping outside.

3. Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Be well-rested, fueled, and hydrated properly. Consistently getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night, eating well, and staying hydrated is a proven strategy for stress management. By reducing stress in general, you’ll also help reduce the likelihood that you will be overly worried before a game.

4. Use Your Routines

Follow your pre-game routine for physical and mental warm-up. Constantly remind yourself that you are well trained and ready for your game. 

You can use imagery, confidence recordings, and power statements. During your warm-up, focus on what you want to do and your strengths rather than on what to avoid and areas that are not a strength yet. Focus on the process and being the best version of you on the ice within your role and our game plan.

5. Bring a Positive Attitude

Act, talk and communicate positivity. A positive team attitude can be psychologically advantageous. And just like positivity, complaining, and negativity are contagious. When you complain, others are invited to do the same. Don’t complain! 

Positive energy and belief are contagious – when you bring energy and carry yourself with belief, others are invited to do the same. Model, talk, and act positively with high energy and belief!

6. Support and Encourage 

A few positive comments to your teammates can go a long way. Applaud others on the team when they do well — Hunt the good. 

Remember, you don’t have to be best friends with all of your teammates. But it does help the team if you can encourage and support their efforts to reach their personal goals and your overall team goals.

Talk like hockey is enjoyable, beneficial, and extremely valuable. The more you invest in hockey, the more you care. The more you care, the harder you work. The harder you work, the better you play. The better you play, the more fun you have. The more fun you have, the more you invest! This is a reinforcing cycle!

7. View Stress As An Opportunity

Act and talk as if you are ready for the competitive challenge; body language and priming are extremely powerful. Welcome the pursuit of competitive hockey excellence! Be grateful for the opportunity in front of you – gratitude is a powerful motivator and fuels passion, perseverance, and grit. Remind yourself of how much you love the challenge – this game is an opportunity, not a threat.  

8. Here and Now

Focus only on what you control. You control your effort. You control your actions. You control your attitude. You control your communication with coaches and teammates. You control your body language. You control how coachable you are and willing to accept feedback. Your attention to anything other than what you control is a waste of your energy and time; worse than that, it is a distraction. Focus on what you control!

9. Maximize Spaces In Between

Use the “spaces in between” effectively.

  • Between the warm-up and national anthem
  • Between the national anthem and the first shift
  • Between shifts
  • Between periods
  • During time outs

Use self-talk, imagery, communication, and body language to build confidence, elevate your teammates, commit to your game plan, what you want to do on the ice next shift, and stay here and now.

10. Focus On The Process

Ultimately, great preparation that minimizes internal distractions such as worries, anxieties, fears, and doubts, comes down to directing your attention to the process and what you control. When you focus on the process, the outcomes take care of themselves. When you focus on the outcome, the process falls apart. Focus on the process.

When you are preparing to compete, you want to pay attention to what you control, how you want to play, and stay in the moment. This is important because judgment, comparison, and evaluation fuel anxiety and become internal distractions.  

How will you respond to stress, fear, and worry during big moments?

Confidence: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Develop It

Hockey Confidence: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Develop It

Q. What exactly is confidence?

Answer: Confidence is a belief that I am trained, prepared, ready and able to do what is necessary in this moment to be successful.  In hockey it comes with a clear understanding of the game plan, my role, and our systems. It is a belief that I have the skills and ability needed to execute my role within our game plan.  Even more importantly, it is a belief that I can adjust in the moment to any obstacles in my way and still succeed.

Basically confidence is knowing and feeling that “I can do this.”  Confidence impacts grit, resiliency, motivation, optimism, and perseverance over time.  Confidence improves performance on the ice and it strengthens a player’s resistance to pressure.  Hoping to feel confident is a poor strategy. Using exercises and skills to develop confidence is a good strategy.  Confidence needs to be front loaded and practiced like any other skill you need for hockey!


Q.Where does confidence come from?

Answer: Confidence has six powerful sources.

  1. Success – having done something well in the past
  2. Preparation – deliberate practice and skill development that has you ready to perform under pressure
  3. Self-talk – what we tell ourselves about our ability and the situation we are facing
  4. Imagery – what we picture in our heads
  5. Our ability to understand and manage our emotions and physiology
  6. Talk and encouragement from trusted teammates, coaches, and others in the hockey world. 

So the formula for building confidence is a combination of drawing from a history of past success; focusing on what you control; focusing on what you want to do; staying in the moment; positive and energizing self-talk and imagery; clarity of your role and what you want to do on the ice; and tons of repetition of the physical and mental skills needed to play the game at your highest level!


Q. Is it possible to lose confidence?

Answer: Yes. Confidence is very much like a skill. If you don’t work it you will lose it; if you don’t front load it, you will not have it. There are also things that can shake our confidence. Doubt can erode confidence. Fear can erode confidence. Keep in mind that most doubts and fears come down to one central theme in hockey: if things don’t go as planned I don’t have the ability to adjust and I will fail.


Q. What does playing with confidence look like?

Answer: Many players make the mistake of thinking confidence equals the absence of doubt, fear, and worry.  This is not true. The best players in the world experience doubt, fear, and worry. BUT, they have developed the skills and strategies to move towards their goals, targets, and top level performance DESPITE doubts and worries.  They do this by redirecting their thoughts, managing their emotions, and having clear and powerful on-ice actions to execute one shift at a time. They build a belief and a sense of trust from their training. This is done well before the big game!  Confidence is accepting the risk of a situation but fully committing to the process without any guarantees!

Confidence on the ice is playing to win, playing aggressively, playing with intensity and competing with 100% of what you have at this moment.  It is accepting that mistakes will happen, knowing you can adjust when they do, and trusting your training to get you through those moments. 

An Overview on Building Confidence

Develop Mental Toughness With FREE Confidence Exercises

Want a confidence exercise so you can develop your mental toughness? Sign up below to get it delivered straight to your inbox.

* indicates required

Exercise 1:

Choose 3 of the following steps that seem most powerful for you at this time.  Write them down. Look at them and commit to executing them before every practice and game for the next 4 weeks.  When these steps feel like habits, choose 3 more and follow the same process. Continue to do this throughout the season.

  • Focus on skills, don’t worry about outcomes; keep it simple!    Suppose that a goal-scorer hasn’t scored in a few games and starts to think before each game, “I hope I score.”  Or suppose that a team hasn’t beaten another team for several games, and they start to think, “When will we ever beat these guys?”  Scoring a goal or beating a team is an outcome. Don’t worry about outcomes; rather think about the skills that you should perform on the ice that affect the outcome. 


  • Break the game into chunks.  Set short-term goals for the on-ice skills that you know you can execute (e.g. I’m going to finish my checks, battle hard for loose pucks, cushion the pass).  Use your ABCs and RELOAD each shift. A full head is an empty stick … Keep it simple. Focus on this shift. We all do better when we break challenges into smaller challenges – puts us here and now.


  • Focus on your strengths, not your limitations and mistakes.  Some players tend to worry about their weaknesses or to look for reasons why they might perform poorly. Others worry excessively about criticism from the coach or bad write-ups in the paper. It is critical to work on and improve your weaknesses in practice. BUT, when game time comes, focus on your strengths. If you have lots of speed, then say to yourself, “I’m going to use my speed.” Don’t just say it, FEEL IT – FEEL YOURSELF FLYING ON THE ICE. Think about your successes and your achievements. Use them to restore your belief.


  • Emphasize what you want to do, and not what you don’t want to do.  Always emphasize your strengths in the positive.  Focus on what you will do, rather than what you won’t do.  For example, when thinking about yourself with the puck in front of the open net, emphasize, “I’ll shoot quick and accurate” rather than “I won’t blow it.”  Remember our example of, don’t think about a pink elephant


  • Know how to stay loose.  Players who appear confident are usually loose and not uptight.  Players who appear quite nervous are generally not described as being confident.  Remember your breathing, centering, self-talk, relaxing imagery, and humor strategies that work for you.  Use them.


  • Act confident.  A.C.E. (Acting Cures Everything). That’s right – fake it to make it.  Pull your shoulders back, stick out your chest, and act the part of a confident player.  Fill yourself with positive talk and images. Strut, don’t just walk. Your emotions will follow your body’s lead.  Body language matters!


  • Simplify and Go Back to Basics.  What are the foundations of the game? Compete in all 3 zones.  Finish my hits. Move my feet. Block shots. Win wall battles.  Active stick. Go back to the basics. Be exceptional at the details and everything else will flow from there.


  • Do Your Job (DYJ.).  It doesn’t matter how you feel – you control your actions and you control your execution of the details of the game.  Make a decision, this moment, to give 100% of what you have, and do your job this shift.


  • Relive your best performances.  When you begin to lose your confidence/belief, think about your previous best games and team victories that you were a part of.  Try to recapture the feelings that you had when you played in those games. Highlight tapes or imagery can both work here.


  • Simulations/Rehearse game situations in practice.  Suppose that you’re a defenseman and the opposition scored in each of the last couple of games because you didn’t cover the guy in front of the net.  Or suppose that you’re a goal scorer and you haven’t in a few games. To regain your belief, simulate those actions in practices. If you’re the defenseman, for example ask the goalie and a couple of forwards to stay out with you after practice.  One forward should try to get tip-ins from in front of the net, and your job is to tie him up, and especially tie up his stick. When you do, your belief is likely to come back. If you’re the goal scorer, ask goalie and another player to stay out after practice.  Practice scoring from all angles. As your goal scoring returns, so will your belief.


  • Create Game Situations in Practice and with Imagery.  Give yourself challenges; there is 30 seconds left and we are down a goal.  30 seconds left and we are up a goal. Create pressure situations in practice.  Think of the game application of every drill you are in. Picture that you are executing against our next opponent.  Add pressure situations to your imagery work.


  • Interpret anxiety as a sign of enthusiasm, excitement and readiness, not fear.  Virtually all quality athletes feel anxious before the contest.  How you interpret this feeling is what separates players who rise to the occasion from those who fall flat.  Rather than pretending you do not have anxiety, interpret it as a positive sign, a display of readiness and confidence.  It is like riding a rollercoaster – the nervous energy is what makes it fun…that is what you are paying for. Embrace the emotions and feelings.  BE EXCITED.


  • Be ready.  Nothing builds belief like good preparation.  Hockey players should practice hard, be in good physical condition, listen to their coaches, learn from past mistakes, remember skills and strategies already learned and practiced, and always do their best.  ALWAYS BE HERE AND NOW – THIS MOMENT, THIS SHIFT.


  • Frame it as a challenge.  A situation framed as a threat puts us on our heels; makes us defensive; triggers the fight or flight response.  The same situation framed as a challenge creates energy, intensity, and focus. CHOOSE to frame it as a challenge and opportunity.


  • Have fun.  One of the most effective pregame thoughts a hockey player can have, especially prior to “high-pressure” contests or in tense situations, is the thought of enjoying the competitive experience.  I’ve seen athletes play their best games against their most superior opponents when their coach reminded them to “go out there and have some fun.” Have a laugh and a healthy perspective.


  • Know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.  Fear, intimidation, and threat about the perceived superiority of opponents is a major obstacle to self-confidence.  All opposing players and teams have weaknesses. Athletes should know them, and through their game plan, exploit them.


  • Use Power Statements.  Develop a list about how good you are!  Your strengths; why you are one of the best players in the game; how you dominate.  Then flood yourself with this list several times per day and during a game.


  • TALK.  Talk for focus, talk for energy, talk for confidence.  Talk puts your focus outside (instead of being stuck in your head).  Talk helps sort it out and settle it down during a game; it lets your teammates know you are engaged and focused; it intimidates your opponents when you are loud and vocal!


  • Under-react to everything.  Bad play – so what and move on.  Good play – so what and move on.


  • Know your vision, mission, identity, and role.  Recommit to your mission.  Recommit to your role. Live your identity.  Focus on your job and your strengths.


  • Use Imagery 3-5 days per week away from the rink.  Take 10-15 minutes each time and visualize yourself executing on the ice.  A great way to do this is to use your own video clips; use our breathing exercise to relax, then watch a clip of you executing on the ice. Next visualize that clip 10-15 times.  Now you move onto the next clip and do the same thing. You are burning neural pathways and creating a mental blueprint for success …THEN IN THE GAME SITUATION IT MAKES IT EASIER TO READ AND REACT!

Exercise 2:

Complete the following, then, reflect on your answers and allow yourself to feel your belief about who you are as a hockey player!  Review your answers daily for 4 weeks. Continue to add and adjust as seems appropriate.

Q. What are your top strengths as a hockey player?  List at least four.







Q. What praise, words of wisdom, positive feedback, or compliments have others given you in hockey?






Q. What personal successes or accomplishments have you had in hockey that you are most proud of?





Q. How would you describe yourself as a hockey player to others, if you took the most positive stance possible?




Q. What can you say about your training or work ethic that gives you confidence?




Exercise 3:

Write a list of six positive and truthful statements about yourself as a hockey player.

When I am at my best, I am……








  • Find a quiet place to relax. For one or two minutes reflect on one of the statements and search for evidence that is its true. Repeat this for each statement. 
  • Repeat this exercise every day for 4 weeks. Each day, ask yourself if there is another positive self-statement you can add; if the answer is yes, then add it to your list. 
  • Several times each day, look at an item on the list, and, for about two minutes, reflect on the evidence for its accuracy.

Exercise 4:

Complete these sentences. Then review this list daily for 4 weeks.  Add and adjust answers when helpful.

Something I do really well in hockey is __________________________________________________

Something I do even better is___________________________________________________________

My greatest strength as a player is_______________________________________________________

My greatest offensive strength as a hockey player is_________________________________________

My greatest defensive strength as a hockey player is_________________________________________

I am proud _________________________________________________________________________

I have accomplished__________________________________________________________________

My greatest achievement in hockey is ____________________________________________________

Success is _________________________________________________________________________

Passion is __________________________________________________________________________

I have the power to __________________________________________________________________

I can help my teammates by___________________________________________________________

I believe__________________________________________________________________________

I am unstoppable when______________________________________________________________

I am not afraid to___________________________________________________________________

Something I am committed to doing better next game is______________________________________

Today, I will ______________________________________________________________________

I am going to_______________________________________________________________________

Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Identity

Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Identity

In the world of sports, many players find themselves riding an emotional roller coaster and don’t know how to get off it. Hockey players are no exception. Moving from one line, analyzing individual TOI, plus-minus, special teams, and analyzing goals and assists from game to game, week to week and month to month, can be a constant emotional roller coaster.

Throughout the season, this emotional roller coaster can have many ups and downs, twists and turns, and can feel like a constant loopty loop, happening over and over again. One day, a player finds themselves on the first line, PP and PK units, and the next week on the 4th line with no PP or PK time. At one practice, the coach is praising certain players; at the next, he is coming down on the same players.

The feelings of being out of control, lost, confused, stressed, and anxious about a situation can dominate a player’s feelings, attitude, and in most situations, a players identity will be challenged if not shattered.

So how does a player slow down the emotional roller coaster and eventually get off it, and gain control of the situation? Let’s begin.

Finding Your Identity

“Who you are” is different from “what you do.” For instance, when a players self-worth is based upon how they play the game, who you are equals what you do. That is the biggest lie in all of sports. It’s a trap and the core of the emotional roller coaster.

This mindset boxes a player in and leads to doubt anxiety, stress, and insecurity. This mindset challenges a player’s identity and eventually leads to an identity crisis. A player is so much more important than “what you do.”

Let’s be clear; what a player does on the ice is important. Players like yourself want to maximize their potential, be recognized, loved, and appreciated for their dedication and commitment. However, hockey is still something a player does as an activity or profession; it is not who they are as a person. There is a big difference. 

Guiding Principles

Hockey players have many principles that guide them as a person. These guiding principles are usually a set of beliefs or core values. When players are uncertain of these values, they end up mindlessly reacting to emotions and thoughts instead of mindfully making choices and engaging in behaviors that move an individual closer to their set of beliefs, values, and goals.  

“Who you are” is based upon a foundation of beliefs, values, and your mission and vision for your life. These foundational beliefs and values shape an individual’s daily thinking, speaking, and behavior. These foundational beliefs and values guide a player in the way they practice, train, develop and act.

When values are established, they become an individual’s foundation or anchor. They clarify a person’s purpose and keep them moving towards the most important parts of their life and their goals.

Having vision, mission, and purpose supported by core values assists in better decision making. Decisions and attitudes towards certain situations become less emotional and therefore, easier to navigate. Relationships with teammates, coaches, staff, and family members become more consistent and less of a roller coaster ride.

Players with established principles and values consistently perform at higher levels and are better under pressure. Players that have a strong sense of their vision and values understand their identity and have better boundaries and self-worth.

Because they live their values on and off the ice, they are less impacted by the highs and lows of the week or previous games. Having a solid foundation is a healthier perspective on the game, but even more importantly is a healthier perspective on life in general.

When players are not grounded by values, their mood and sense of self is dependent upon their performance on any given day. This creates too many highs and lows, which further creates inconsistency.

Players who separate “who they are” from “what they do” can free themselves from the emotional rollercoaster of the season. It is one way to remain even-keeled; not too high or not too low at any point.

Separating Who and What

Ironically, when players separate “who they are” from “what they do” (and I say ironically, because many of us were taught that hockey is all that we are, and we can’t reach our goals unless hockey is our sole identity, purpose, activity), they tend to play more freely, and compete harder and more consistently. 

Lastly, separating “who you are” from “what you do” is extremely powerful in almost every situation. If “who you are” includes foundational core values like unselfishness, loyalty, dedication, and encouragement; then if the coach benches you, this situation gives you the opportunity to live out those values and get better at them. The adversity can be used to fuel identity in “who you are” not “what you do.”

When embracing a philosophy of “who you are” from “what you do,” almost everything that happens to a player becomes an opportunity to grow as a person. Dedicate the time that is necessary to establish a foundational set of core values and beliefs, and use hockey as another way to become a better person. Then, you’re liberated to more freely play hockey.

Is it time to get off the roller coaster and increase your consistency and enjoyment of the game?