By Steve Chmielewski, DPT, USA Hockey Level 5 Coach
It’s that time of year when players start adjusting their aspirations and goals from last season and look toward their news goals for the up and coming year. This typically includes researching and prioritizing which team they want to try out for, as many players will have to compete for the coveted positions open on specific teams. Preparing for tryouts can be tough, so here are a few tips to keep in mind in order to help you stand out and reach peak performance.
Keep your feet moving
Speed is essential when competing in the sport of ice hockey. Whether it is backchecking or forechecking, speed is only going to occur with “the wheels turning.” This is not as easy as it seems and may require a bit of off-ice training prior to tryouts. Both interval sprint training (10s and 45s-60s) and distance based training (ex. 2 mile) would be beneficial to improve the utilization of the body’s different energy systems on the ice and during recovery when resting on the bench. This training will demonstrate your work ethic in the offseason as well as your willingness to meet each coach’s objective. The best part about this particular trait is that it doesn’t require a high level of skill and may be the difference when setting you apart from others.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Understanding personal strengths and weaknesses allows players to prepare for the coming tryouts and season. Frequently we overvalue our strengths and undervalue our weaknesses, which can make us vulnerable when being compared to others. In order to be prepared for tryouts, players should self-critique and seek outside critiquing. A positive way to gather this information is to reach out to past coaches and ask them for feedback, including areas or skills that need to be improved upon. Backward skating, being strong on the puck, driving the net and passing are all examples of areas that may need to be improved upon to become a better player. While some of these hockey concepts are skill related, others might be related to mental focus, which can be immediately applied when preparing for tryouts. It is important to focus on improving multiple areas of strengths and weaknesses, as this will allow players to exploit their strengths and develop their weaknesses appropriately for tryouts as well as the upcoming season.
Positioning typically is something that is difficult to practice. Luckily, there are a number of coaching tools and “pointers” online for each position. For players, it is important not only to understand where they should be, but also where their teammates will be in key situations on the ice (i.e breakout, forecheck, regroup, penalty kill). Understanding positioning can help players develop in all three zones, with and without the puck, and set them apart from others during tryouts. This is the mindset that is underrated in most youth players, but is very noticeable to coaches and scouts. After all, teams don’t want a player that is more focused on their next breakaway rather than on their defensive zone responsibilities. Poor positioning indicates to higher-level teams that the player may be selfish or a liability in key situations of a game.
On the positive side, positioning can be visualized and mentally practiced so it is more automatic by nature. By visualizing different positions and scenarios, players can prepare themselves to be more disciplined in each zone and “slow the game down” when making on-ice decisions.
Positivity (body and mind)
It can be difficult to maintain a positive mindset. Some people can come across “fake” when it is forced or overly optimistic when things are going bad and problems are not being addressed. The best way to stay positive is by continuing to work toward team goals and personal goals through actions and habits. For example, players should think about how they carry themselves after a loss or if they are not getting played as often as they’d like. Positive players also try to pick their teammates up when they are down, as well as make an effort to reinforce good habits throughout the team, and show up to practices consistently and on time. This type of positivity can contribute to the betterment of the team. Most coaches will agree that positivity is a state of mind and is often overlooked.
As the season begins, coaches will be faced with different issues throughout the year that will force them to test the depth and adaptability of the team. Injuries, penalties and travel/attendance issues are all scenarios that are likely to occur throughout the year and may force a coach to make modifications to the lineup. Coaches may be forced to challenge their players to contribute to the team at different positions. Being open to the idea of playing defense may lead to more playing time and a larger role with the team such as: increased likelihood of making the roster, increased power play/penalty kill time and an improved prospective when switching roles. Being versatile can also lead to better performance, as players have a better understanding of the challenges associated with different positions during game situations.
Truth be told, making or not making a specific team will not define a hockey player’s career – just ask Michael Jordan who failed to make his high school team his sophomore year. The focus each year should be to get better and to contribute to the goals of the team. A great way for players to stay focused throughout the year is to identify three obtainable personal goals as well as the goals of the team. This gives players a direction and expectation to strive for throughout the season.