Brandon Whitney was picked in the seventh round (191st overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks this past summer. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
If you’re physically fit, you can call yourself an athlete, but being a good hockey player takes a lot more. Furthermore, building a great team is a mission that requires more than we can imagine.
Those of you who read my posts here at The Hockey News have a good idea of the kind of testing I do with hockey players. You also know that I’m more interested in testing a hockey player on the ice than anywhere else. I usually test, retest and give my recommendations to a team and they take care of the rest.
This season, however, my involvement with one Quebec League team (Victoriaville Tigres) will be quite different. Last year, against all expectations, the team was eliminated quite early in the playoffs. Then, during the summer, I had an opportunity to talk with the coach, Yanick Jean. Defeat has been tough, but he’s the kind of coach who is smart enough to deal with his feelings, think back on what went wrong and then move forward.
One of the most interesting things he mentioned to me was that we ask these young hockey players to prepare themselves mentally, to concentrate, to better manage their stress and emotions and to play as a team, but these are only concepts; mere words. What do they really mean and how can we teach these players to achieve all of these goals when they may not always be as clear as we would like them to be?
For a sports scientist like me, the strategies that result in a good athlete are well-known: test the athlete in his own environment, find his strengths and weaknesses and design a training program that will help him correct his weaknesses and improve on his strengths.
Once you have a good athlete from a physical standpoint, he doesn’t necessarily have the mental qualities that will make him a good hockey player. You now have to deal with what goes on in the brain of the athlete. This has nothing to do with physiological data that you can translate into numbers. We’re facing an athlete (driven by dynamic thinking processes) to whom you must teach specific skills: stress and emotion management, mental preparation, and concentration.
After that, you must take him has an individual and put him on a team where he has to deal with the personalities of other players. The goal is to bring all of them to work together and progress in the same direction. You want them to accept the fact that the team is more important than each individual. Do you really think this is easy to achieve? Do you really think it comes naturally? Do you really think this is accepted from the get-go by every hockey player on the team?
My challenge this season is to accompany the team through the following three important steps:
1. Make these young men better athletes.
2. Teach them the mental abilities they need to become good hockey players.
3. Bring them to play as a team.
The complexity of all this is enormous, but it’s a great and fascinating challenge.
Since the coach has allowed me to share my experience with the readers of The Hockey News, I will provide you with ongoing details about the work I’ll be doing with the team and players. I will also give you more details on the new strategies we will use to evaluate and train the players.
I hope that this information will be useful to you.