Everything good this season will result from the energy of your players!
When it comes to playing your best game, understanding how to re-energize is every bit as important as mental toughness, or knowing the team system, or game preparation. NHL coaches pay intense attention to the energy of both their individual players and their team as a whole. Coaches at this level design their daily practice plans more around energy conservation than strategy or even power play development. Until they learn to maximize their energy, your players cannot reach their highest potential.
Every hockey season has its cycle. It ranges from times of intense tournament play, to days off, to easier practices. Each part of the cycle demands a different energy load and a different approach to re-energizing. One specific part of this season cycle that often gets overlooked is post-tryouts. Some associations even hold their tryouts right after the season ends in the spring, in part to make this fall cycle less dramatic. However, many associations across North America move their players from off-season training directly into the intense output of tryouts. Teams are picked, practices begin and most coaching staffs like to enter an early tournament to help their team come together … this is the intense time in the energy cycle that I want to focus on here.
I participated in tryouts (training camp) for close to 30 seasons. As a player, I loved camp. This was a time to see my buddies again, a time to look forward to playing our great game. But tryouts are not always a positive time for everyone. Not every player makes the team that they are hoping to make. Not every player plays their best during this time of the season. It is important to note that physical energy is either enhanced or hindered by our emotional state, and for some, tryouts or training camp can be a very emotionally draining time. So, after we get through the pressure cooker and land on our team, the remaining question is: “How full is the tank?”
Recognizing “energy levels” is a place where parents and coaches can collaborate in a fundamentally productive way. Great coaching staffs view their parent group as an asset to utilize, not as a herd of cats to babysit. Parents know their kiddos best and can be a great resource to coaches in the area of energy conservation. Also, tryouts can be equally emotionally draining for the parents, so their own energy levels might be a good indicator of the fullness of their child’s energy tank.
Re-energizing is as individual and diverse as the different talent levels on your team. During times of re-energizing or filling the tank, players need to find time away from our game. Relaxation comes in different forms. Over my 15 NHL seasons I watched players read papers, study books, watch golf, hunt geese, gather together around an NFL game on TV and even collect hockey cards (Patrick Roy). Players will find their own ways to relax; parents and coaches need to plan times for them away from our game so they actually can relax. Just an aside: Many parents connect re-energizing with sleeping. The amount of sleep that your players get (more often an indicator of their commitment to the game than how tired they are) is critical to re-energizing, but not the sole factor. Time away to do other things, to take their minds off the game, is the real key. In a future article we will discuss the difference between the “Practice Mindset” and the “Playing Mindset.” The difference is primarily found in the way that the players process information. It is the difference between concentrating on developing their skills and deliberately not concentrating (we call it “flow”). Here’s the correlation: In order for players to re-energize, they need mental time away from the game, some time to put their brains on autopilot.
Famous author Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” As I look back over my own hockey seasons, I am reminded of how amazing my parents were. Mom and Dad intuitively understood the cycle of the hockey season and the need for me to re-energize. I now realize that during the season my folks did an amazing job of finding me short times to do other things, to relax, to turn the brain on autopilot, but it was during the off-season that their intuition really kicked in. My folks would take our family fishing for three weeks to a month every July. We fished, and laughed, and sat around the campfire. We refilled our emotional and physical and mental tanks in July so that my brothers, my sister and I could be our very best in tryouts, and for 30 seasons it paid off!