Tournaments are one of the most exciting parts of youth sports.
In effect they are a season within a season. Even teams that aren’t in contention to win a league or state championship have a shot at the top prize in a tournament.
Moreover, the vibe is compounded by the intense and compressed nature of play. In any given weekend tournament, a player may play 3 or 4 games in the space of 30 hours.
The intense physical and mental toll of tournament play cannot be understated.
From a mental perspective the structure of tournaments involves one waiting for the next opponent at various junctures.
This waiting process can be riddled with anxiety for several reasons:
- Who are you playing next? You don’t know. The unknown often leads to anxiety. Two different teams will most likely have completely different styles and completely different players with unique skill sets and tendencies, so it is difficult to game-plan for your next match up.
- Rust. The longer you have to wait for a game, the more “rusty” you may feel entering the game. Your opponent might have just won and be riding high.
Fatigue from the compressed tournament schedule has both a physical and psychological component. Some effects of fatigue are:
- heavy legs
- muscle stiffness
- joint aches
- shortness of breath
- Inability to see opportunities developing on the ice
- slower reactions
- reduced pace on shots and passes
- Lower spatial awareness
- reduced accuracy
- more extreme emotional reactions
- loss of focus (especially if a player becomes pre occupied with physical ailments)
Coaches and players tend to only train for the physical ardor of tournaments. And while building up strength and anaerobic and aerobic capacity is critical, only focusing on these elements leaves a team mentally disadvantaged.
Recently, technology called Hockey IntelliGym, has helped teams prep for tournament play in a powerful way. Originally designed to train fighter pilots, this software program helps athletes improve their hockey sense – including awareness, anticipation, decision making, concentration, and execution – which in turn improves their performance and reduces their chances of injury. In terms of tournament play this has been a huge leg up.
“Attention to detail and focus require mental energy. The ability to control your cognitive attention and be efficient will lead to reduced fatigue, both mentally and physically. In a three day tournament, with high emotions and multiple distractions, the benefits of working with IntelliGym are real,” said Sean Goldsworthy, who has coached NCAA and high school level championship teams and trained players from across the Midwest.
Thousands of players of all levels have used it to get a leg up on the competition. USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program has been using the software for ten years and has seen an unprecedented run in international play winning seven IIHF World Championships with a total of 28 medals since adopting the software
Playing smarter and more aware is playing more efficient hockey. This is critical during the compressed tournament schedule. Players gain an edge when they preserve their mental capacity and can exploit time and space in a robust way against fatigued opponents. The edge provided by technology such as IntelliGym can be the difference between winning and losing a big tournament.