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How do Hockey Players Prepare Mentally for a Game?

When we think of hockey, the physical demands of the sport often come to mind first: the speed, the hits, and the precision. However, the mental aspect of the game is just as critical. Mental preparation in hockey is a cornerstone for success, enabling players to perform at their best under immense pressure and fast-paced conditions.

This article explores the various techniques hockey players use to prepare mentally, ensuring they are as sharp in mind as they are in body.

Understanding Mental Preparation

Mental preparation refers to the psychological readiness of athletes to face the challenges of their sport. In hockey, where games are fast and the physical stakes are high, mental preparation is crucial. It helps players manage stress, maintain focus throughout the game, and execute strategies effectively under pressure.

Why Mental Preparation Matters

Mental toughness enables players to overcome setbacks and remain concentrated and motivated. For instance, during a tense playoff game or a penalty shootout, the ability to stay calm and collected can make the difference between a win and a loss. This psychological resilience is built through consistent mental training and preparation.

Core Aspects of Mental Preparation

  1. Confidence Building: Players work on maintaining a positive mindset and self-belief to handle the intense scrutiny and competition of professional sports.
  2. Stress Management: Learning techniques to control and utilize stress positively rather than allowing it to impair performance.
  3. Mental Imagery and Visualization: Before games, players often visualize successful execution of plays, which enhances muscle memory and decision-making skills during actual gameplay.

Mental preparation isn’t just about handling the game’s pressures; it’s about setting the stage for optimum performance by ensuring the mind is prepped to lead the body. Next, we will delve into specific techniques that players use to achieve this level of readiness.

Techniques Used by Hockey Players

Hockey players employ various mental techniques to prepare for games, which can be broadly categorized into visualization, concentration, and relaxation practices.

Visualization Techniques

Visualization or mental imagery is a powerful tool where players mentally rehearse their moves and strategies. They visualize scoring goals, making passes, and even anticipate potential moves by opponents. This not only prepares them for the game’s pace, but also boosts their confidence by mentally simulating successful outcomes.

Concentration and Focus

Concentration is key in a sport as fast-paced as hockey. Players often practice concentration drills that may involve focusing intensely on an object or action for a period, then maintaining that focus amidst various distractions. Such exercises help players maintain their focus during critical moments of the game, like during a power play or while defending a lead in the final minutes.

Meditation and Relaxation

To combat the inevitable pre-game jitters, many players turn to meditation and relaxation techniques. Techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or even short meditative sessions help players calm their minds and reduce anxiety levels, ensuring they’re mentally fresh before hitting the ice.

Each of these techniques helps in crafting a mentally resilient athlete who can handle the pressures of professional hockey.

Routine of Professional Hockey Players

Professional hockey players often have highly structured routines that are as much about mental preparation as they are about physical. These routines not only help players perform consistently but also provide a psychological comfort zone, enabling them to enter every game with a clear and focused mind.

Typical Pre-Game Routines

  1. Structured Warm-Ups: Most players follow a specific physical warm-up routine, which also serves as a mental checklist to engage with the task at hand.
  2. Team Meetings: Coaches typically hold meetings to go over game strategy. This not only reinforces the game plan but also boosts team morale and focus.
  3. Personal Rituals: Many players have personal rituals, such as listening to specific music, wearing particular gear in a certain order, or even repeating specific phrases to themselves. These rituals are crucial for setting a mental state that is conducive to peak performance.

Example of a Professional’s Routine

Take, for example, a well-known NHL player who begins his game day with a morning skate, followed by a video review session. Post these activities, he engages in a relaxation session, possibly involving yoga or mindfulness exercises, to clear his mind from any distractions and focus solely on the game. Right before the game, he visualizes key plays he needs to execute, reinforcing his role and objectives.

Role of Coaches and Sports Psychologists

Coaches and sports psychologists play a significant role in the mental preparation of hockey players. Their expertise helps players harness their mental strength and address any psychological barriers that might affect their performance.

Coaching Strategies

  • Motivational Speeches: Before the game, motivational talks can inspire and mentally gear up the team for the challenge ahead.
  • Focused Feedback: Providing focused and constructive feedback during practice helps players build confidence and correct errors without damaging morale.

Sports Psychologists’ Contribution

  • Mental Skills Training: Sports psychologists often work with players on skills like focus enhancement, stress reduction, and visualization techniques.
  • Emotional Support: They provide a safe space for players to discuss anxieties or pressures that might be affecting their performance, offering strategies to overcome these.

Preparing for Different Scenarios

Hockey games can be unpredictable, requiring players to be mentally prepared for any scenario.

Handling Pressure

Players are often trained to handle high-pressure situations, such as playoff games or penalty kills, where mental resilience is as critical as physical skill.

Adapting to Unexpected Situations

Injuries, unexpected plays, or sudden changes in game strategy are all scenarios where a player’s mental agility will be tested. Preparation for these situations involves scenario-based training where players mentally rehearse adaptations to various game conditions.

Advice for Amateur Hockey Players

Amateur players looking to improve their game can take several cues from professional routines:

  • Start Simple: Incorporate basic visualization and relaxation techniques into your pre-game routine.
  • Consistency is Key: Develop a consistent pre-game ritual that helps you focus and reduces performance anxiety.
  • Seek Professional Advice: If possible, work with coaches or psychologists to develop mental resilience.


Mental preparation in hockey is not just about preparing for the physical demands of the game but also gearing up mentally to face and overcome the challenges on the ice. From visualization techniques to the role of sports psychologists, each element plays a crucial role in building a mentally strong athlete.

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, focusing on mental preparation can significantly enhance your performance and enjoyment of the game.

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