Mental Skills Training in the NHL, Part 2

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by Shannon Penfound, Staff Writer and Event Coordinator, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Thinking man

SARNIA, ON — I recently discussed the various NHL teams who currently utilize the expertise of mental skills coaches and sport psychologists. A player may or may not choose to take advantage of having a mental skills trainer on-site. As a follow-up to that article, let’s look at the current NHL players who take onus of their mental game and seek out mental skills training in order to increase their performance on the ice.

The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the five NHL teams who employ a mental skills coach. Brandon Saad (25 points in 39 games) and Bryan Bickell (14 points in 39 games) both work regularly with James Gary, one of two mental skills coaches employed by the Blackhawks. Bickell had 15 points in the 2013-2014 season and is already well on his way to beating last season’s numbers. Bickell says that Gary helps him to, “…refresh the things that work and keep me in the mindset of what I need to do every night1.”

Bryan+Bickell-500x342

The Montreal Canadiens are another team who employ a mental skills coach. Two current Habs players who benefit from Sylvain Guimond’s work are David Desharnais and Lars Eller. Desharnais (21 points in 39 games) said the following about Guimond, “…he’s helped with confidence and putting focus on the right things. Mostly, it’s about creating reminders to not worry too much about negative things, sometimes you want to do the right things mentally and you think you are doing them, but you aren’t. He can help you see that2.” Guimond has even been known to attend practices, making himself more readily available to the team. Eller has said that Guimond has made a huge impact on his style of play, “Confidence is the most important thing in sports…I knew there was something to be unlocked, that there was something holding me back somehow3.” Eller has 15 points in 34 games this season.

Lars Eller
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Detroit Red Wings do not work with any mental skills trainers, coach Mike Babcock understands the importance of the mental side of the game. Earlier this year, Babcock had the following to say, “…it’s not your ability physically that makes you a dominant player every day, it’s your ability mentally that makes you a dominant player, and it’s that mental toughness4.” Babcock has done some post-graduate work in the field of sport psychology and I would imagine that he brings some of that expertise into the locker room. The Red Wings are sitting at 9th in the league with 49 points.

There is also a new style of training on the market that has been gaining popularity with many NHL players. Darryl Belfry works with players on what he calls the ‘three speeds of hockey’: the speed of hand, feet, and mind5. The players who currently work with Belfry are some pretty big names in the league, including:

Patrick Kane – 42 points in 39 games

Zach Parise – 30 points in 32 games

Andrew Ladd – 32 points in 40 games

John Tavares – 36 points in 39 games

Our very own, Max Pacioretty – 31 points in 39 games

Price Tavares

Belfry’s approach understands the fact that each player is an individual and therefore requires individualized approaches to both his physical and mental game. Belfry’s approach is obviously helping this group of a-listers so far this season and these players are showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

The importance of mental training cannot be understated. Although only five current NHL teams employ a mental skills coach of some kind, players are taking the responsibility to seek out mental training in order to up their game. Athletes today understand that in order to be productive on the ice, all aspects of training need to be addressed. Sport is 50-90 percent mental – so why not train the mental side as you would the physical side? In an upcoming article, I will dive into a few tips and tricks that all athletes can use in order to increase their mental performance on the playing field.

 

  1. Kuc, C. (2014). Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell hopes erratic season is on the upswing. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-03-10/sports/ct-blackhawks-spt-0311-20140311_1_bryan-bickell-ice-time-blackhawks-winger
  2. Gordon, S. (2013). Habs praise team psychologist’s ability to put ‘the focus on the right things.’ Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/habs-praise-team-psychologists-ability-to-put-the-focus-on-the-right-things/article9938142/
  3. Nichols, C. (2013). Sport Psychologist Helps Habs’ Eller. Retrieved from http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/sports-psychologist-helps-habs-eller/
  4. Khan, A. (2014). Mike Babcock: Mental toughness the key to a good season for Detroit Red Wings’ Johan Franzen. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/redwings/index.ssf/2014/10/mike_babcock_mental_toughness.html
  5. Belfry Hockey. The Process. Retrieved from http://www.proplaymakers.ca/.

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