Visualizing Success for Young Athletes

Hockey, as any player will tell you, is about far more than just getting out onto that ice and attacking the puck like your life depends on it (no matter what it might look like on TV during Hockey Night in Canada). Anyone who plays the sport knows there’s a skill involved – not just motor skills like being able to skate and stick-handle, but the skill to utilize your teammates to complete the play, to monitor their positions, and even to carry out pre-determined strategies for overcoming your opponents’ combined skills.

In short, there’s more strategy to hockey than there might seem from the stands. To our Clarington Thunder players, and to all hockey players, as your youth hockey career progresses and as you mature as a player, strategy will become more important to your game. And strategy is as much a mental skill as a physical one.

This week’s blog post is about visualizing your game, and it is inspired by multi-sports counselor and mental skills trainer Anthony Lanzillo, who advocates for youth athletes to “visualize the play.”

Practicing your drills is more than just getting out there on the ice and doing them over and over again. It’s about seeing them in your head, seeing yourself doing them step by step. When you’re visualizing your drills, you want to imagine the feel of each step, where you’re looking on the ice, and where you are supposed to be in relation to your teammates. It’s as important to commit your drills to your mental memory as it is to commit them to your physical memory (also called muscle memory).

Here are some additional things you want to be doing when you visualize the play:

  • Identify one or two positive feelings you’re experiencing as you see yourself successfully performing your role.
  • Identify key moments of each drill: where’s your stick; where are you looking on the ice; which opposing player are you covering?
  • When you’re done visualizing, identify one or two more of your own personal strengths which you bring to the play. Is it speed? Puck control? Diversion?

What practicing these visualizations and mental rehearsals do is help you to be more composed and confident when it’s game time. As Anthony Lanzillo says, you are creating a mental imprint of how you want to perform. By doing this, you will be better able to deal with any distractions or negative influences at game time.

And with parents and fans of our players as passionate about hockey as we know they can be, there will definitely be distractions at game time.

After all, what’s a local hockey game without a good old cow bell?

5 Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids

If you think kids’ recreational sports are any less competitive than their adult versions, think again. That goes double for hockey! There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you step out onto the ice at the start of every game. It’s a feeling that gets you at any age, and it’s one of the best things about hockey.

Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous … if you forget to pay attention to safety.

With the hockey season just around the corner, we think it’s important to remind all of our parents and players that injuries are preventable. Here are a few tips on how you can prevent and avoid injury. For parents with kids in sports other than hockey, these tips are adaptable to any sport.

  1. Listen to your injuries

Sometimes it’s tough to put your hand up and say you’re injured. Our players love the game of hockey, they love their teams, and they love their coaches. It might be easy to think you’re letting your team down if you don’t play. But staying in the game now and playing injured will only take you out of the game for longer when that injury becomes serious. Parents, listen to your kids. If they say something hurts, investigate the whats, whens and hows. Your kids are still growing, their bones are still forming, and an untreated injury at this stage can lead to long-term consequences. Let your kids know it’s okay to rest their bodies. For our older players that might think playing through an injury is better than missing a game, just remember that missing one game is far better than missing the entire season.

  1. Play by the rules

Hockey is one of Clarington’s best-loved traditions. We’re home to the great Oshawa Generals, after all. Game after game, our recreational league players see their hockey heroes on the ice – playing by a very different set of rules than we have. Depending on what level you or your children play at, they might not be allowed to check, even though they see their favourite professional players doing the same thing. Our rules on what players can and can’t do are there for a reason: to protect them. If your child is given a penalty for doing something that’s against the rules, talk to them. Explain why they can’t do that. It’s to prevent them and their fellow players from getting hurt.

  1. Learn the proper technique

Hockey is a technique-oriented sport. Not only do you need to know how to carry the puck, stick handle, challenge and work as a team, you have to do it all with a pair of razor-sharp blades stuck on your feet. Technique in any sport is essential – especially in hockey. With the proper technique, you are on your way to making yourself a force to be reckoned with. You also minimize your risk of injury. Players, pay attention to your coaches at practice when they’re instructing you on technique. Parents, if you’re able, help your child by listening to the coach as well, and then (if feasible) give your child the opportunity to practice what they learned at public skates and stick and puck sessions.

  1. Don’t forget to warm up and stretch before practices and games

When their blood is pumping just before the game, stretching and warmups are probably the last thing on your child’s mind. But all the pros do it. Having limber muscles is a must for preventing injury. If you have some time before you leave the house, sit down with your child and do some simple leg, arm, and torso stretches. Warm up a bit by having them jog in place. Do jumping jacks. Or just walk around the block. Here is a guide to some basic hockey stretches.

  1. Wear proper and well-fitting equipment

At Clarington Thunder, regulated equipment is mandatory. This is not just our rule, it’s mandated by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Hockey Canada. Not every sport regulates equipment, however. Whatever sport your child plays, equipment is always important. And just because we mandate our equipment in hockey, doesn’t mean our players are automatically injury-proof. Parents, you need to make sure your child’s equipment fits properly. When buying their gear, choose a reputable store that has knowledgeable staff on hand to help you select the proper size. You can also search online for tips on what to look for if  your child’s helmet, shin pads, mouth guard, or any other piece of equipment is either too big or too small. If you’re still not sure, ask your coach. Equipment doesn’t just prevent injuries – proper equipment does.