A challenging aspect of being a competitive hockey player is playing at a consistent level. There are many distractions that can affect your ability to play consistent hockey including lack of sleep, stress from schoolwork, and more.
However, one attribute of elite hockey players is that they “show up” every night. For example, earlier this season, Patrick Kane recorded a point in 26 consecutive games, the longest scoring streak in the NHL since 1992-93.
How do the best players manage to be so consistent? One reason is that they understand how intensity influences their ability to perform.
Too much intensity and you will have tense muscles and rapid, racing thoughts, which makes it difficult to play naturally and make good decisions on the ice. Too little intensity and your body will feel sluggish and you will have trouble maintaining the focus you need throughout the game.
In general terms, an athlete should feel relaxed, yet energized; calm, but also alert and focused. In sport psychology, this is called the Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF). While you can’t expect to play your best every night, athletes who continually put themselves in this zone are the most consistent.
The IZOF is unique for each hockey player and can depend on factors such as playing position, personality, and minutes of ice-time. Some players will perform their best with higher levels of intensity such as an attacking forward, while others play better with lower levels, such as a stay at home defenceman.
One way to learn about your IZOF is to think back to the best games you’ve played. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being extremely low intensity and 10 being extremely high, how much intensity did you experience during the game? Were you in the 7-8 range? Or were you in 5-6 range?
Once you’ve identified your ideal level of intensity, the next step is learning how to increase or decrease your intensity level prior to and during a game. One effective way to do this is to monitor and adjust your breathing. To lower your intensity level, try calm, slow breaths from your stomach, or diaphragm. To increase your intensity level, try short, quick breaths from your diaphragm. With both techniques, you will quickly notice a change in your level of intensity.
Keep in mind that your intensity levels will change throughout the course of a game, so its important to use these techniques in different situations, such as while you are on the bench or when you are waiting for a face off.
Learning how to adjust your intensity level to improve your performance can take time and practice. It is not a skill that is learned overnight. In fact, professional hockey players continually work on this aspect of their mental game, because they understand its importance.
Hopefully this article has helped introduce this concept and provides you with some tips you can try.
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