Hockey is a game of inches. A game of what-ifs and could haves’. The margin for error is small, and the game moves quickly, so you have to be ready for it. Every player will prepare for a hockey game differently, and there is no perfect solution, or one size fits all. I have found the best results are when I experimented with different options, kept what I liked, and discarded the rest.
But, that being said, there are general frameworks and tips that you can use to help prepare yourself for your next big game. And while the preparation really starts in the off-season, I’m going to assume you’ve done the work and start with the night before the game.
The Night Before The Game
Hockey is a game of personal preference, and mine was always to start getting the night before the game. That included visualization and making sure that I had everything I needed ready to go.
Visualization the night before a game was always important to me. I would like to have already been in the arena that we will be playing before we actually get there.
I’d like to have gone up against any possible situation that might arise in my mind, so when it happens, I already know what to do.
It’s hard to prove one way or another whether visualization works just based on what I’ve done myself, but studies have shown that the brain isn’t able to tell the difference between an imagined experience and a real one. Pretty crazy stuff to think about, but you can really use it to your advantage when preparing for a game.
I personally loved it and felt it did have an impact on my performance.
Typically I liked to visualize for 15-20 minutes the night before a game. The best way I found was to lie on my back and allow myself to relax before running through specific situations on the ice like working the breakout or neutral zone situations.
It’s always nice to make sure that all of your ducks are in a row before a game. What are you planning on wearing? Are you going with the dress-up? Or is casual the move? Your clothing will obviously depend on what is standard for your team, but having everything laid out the night before a game will reduce stress in the morning significantly. Especially if you are playing high school hockey and have to go to school for most of the day before you play.
What about your hockey gear? Do you have every piece of equipment? Skates sharpened? Are your laces still in good working condition? Little things like that will help keep your mind off parts of the game on game day that can be taken care of the night before.
Of course, you might want to tape your stick or lace your skates directly before the game to help get in the zone, but having the tape or laces ready to go the night before reduces stress.
The bottom line, make sure that your hockey equipment is up to par the night before a hockey game.
What about food? Especially if you have to prepare food yourself. What are you eating beforehand? And can you make it the night before? If you’re going out to eat, where?
What you eat likely is more up to preference than you may realize. I can’t tell you what to eat because you are going to perform differently after eating one food compared to the next person. Personally, I always preferred pasta the night before a game, but that was just me.
Eat what makes you feel the best about yourself going into a game. Don’t worry so much about what other people tell you, you should be eating. Unless you are throwing the cookies down. Then maybe you should take it easy.
Having a simple plan in place before a game can help you in ways you might not realize. Bandwidth is something to keep in mind and you don’t want to spend your thoughts on things that can be taken care of before a game.
On the day of the game, there are several things that you can do to help get yourself in the right state of mind.
Move Early In The Day
You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn on a big game day, but if you can get the blood moving a little early morning it can be beneficial. Even if it means going for a short walk, getting in some jumping jacks, pushups or juggling a little. I always felt that it helped get me in the right mindset for the day and my body had already felt movement before the game starts.
Eat The Right Foods
Typically on game day I always liked to keep it light. I always thought that when I played hockey on a full stomach, I was a little more lackadaisical compared to when I played on a semi-full stomach. I definitely think that you should have food and snack before the game, just be conscious of what you are putting into your body.
Pre Game Routine
Having a pregame routine helped me a lot as a hockey player. I knew what I was going to do. Warm up with some hand-eye coordination, visualize myself on the ice, warm up and then gametime. There were other idiosyncrisizes that I had, but generally, I followed this routine.
Having a pre-game routine can help get you in the right state of mind for what is coming next.
After the puck is dropped, it’s game on. You’ve done the work before hand, now it’s time to let your body and your mind take over. Trust yourself to make the right decisions, play hard and enjoy the game!