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?