I’m in the process of writing a book on mental toughness in hockey and in doing my research I find that there are so many specific areas of mental toughness, literally 40, 50, 60 different skill areas when it comes to improving mental toughness … but what I also find is they all fit nicely into various categories.

What’s great about this is, because there are less than 10 categories, these skills and habits that make up mental toughness are so much easier to learn, practice, and develop versus looking at them as the individual skills, which is more like 50 or more.

Ok, so what am I getting at?

Well, let’s start by looking at them from an applied practical standpoint … meaning, let’s look at them from the perspective of what you can do with them right now, starting today.

Let’s start with a category I call performance factors … these are things like your ability to stay focused. Or your motivation. Or how well you control your emotions or how you manage your intensity on the ice. Or what’s your self-confidence, or how do you see yourself as a player, or how self-aware are you of yourself and your hockey experiences.

I know a lot of young people are just on a hockey ride. They don’t give much thought to what’s going on. They’re not all wrapped up in where they’re going (their goals), or what are their strengths are, or what do they need to work on. Now when I say they don’t give much thought, what I mean is, it’s not something they specifically focus on.

Let’s be honest. Many young players are just taking one day at a time. They know they have practice and games, but mom and dad will get me to those. They’ll remind me. They’ll drive me. They’ll make sure my jersey is clean. They’ll remind me to check my bag and make sure all my stuff is ready.

In other words, they’re along for the ride. They’re not driving, they’re a passenger on their hockey journey.

I’m reading a book on Connor McDavid and it is just amazing at how engaged and involved he was in his hockey development from an early age. He created his own practices and drills in his driveway. He’s studied other players and teams to understand what they were doing that made them successful. And he did all this as young as 10 and 11 years old.

So getting back to what a lot of young players do, the idea of thinking about how they focus, what they focus on, what they should focus on … what drives them, what pumps them up or bums them out. These are just things that happen. They’re not things they necessarily think about or focus on. They are things that just pass by the window during their ride. Sometimes they’ll come up; maybe even interfere with their play, (hopefully not), but when they do, hopefully, they’ll work themselves out. Or mom or dad or the coach will do something to help me work it out.

Where are am I going with this?

Well back to the idea of one of the categories I mentioned, performance factors.

Think of performance factors as core building blocks of performance. These are skills that serve as a foundation for other skills to stand on. Focus is a core mental skill and a player's ability to execute a proper breakout, or proper backcheck, or get a shot on net. To execute any of these skills, the ability to stay focused, to focus on the right things, and to focus in the right way will be critical in their ability to master these important skills.

Elite performance in hockey is about having the right hockey skills to go along with the right mental skills. And just looking at one area, the area of performance factors can show you just how important the mental part of the game can be if a player wants to master the other parts of the game.

So if performance factors are just one area, what are some of the other areas in a player's mental game?.

Well in my next post I’ll talk about an area that can be just as important as performance factors and that is performance preparation.

These are things like having goals, having routines, knowing how to get the most out of practice, and knowing who you are as a player.

So come back for the next post and learn about how to improve consistency and reliability in your hockey performance by improving your preparation factors.

Until next time

bar down!

Dr. Dub
Kevin L. Willis, PhD
Sport Psychologist
Level 5 USA Hockey Coach

Focus Clarity Preparation