The time between your first step into a gym after the season and your first step onto the ice to start training camp can feel like an eternity.
Check that: It does feel like an eternity (to which hockey fans can relate these days).
Everyone mixes in a little vacay time here and there, but for most hockey players, it's the lift, bike, skate, lift, bike, skate, oh-god-not-this-again monotony. The only real competition you face is against your mind - you have to find something that motivates you each and every day.
I used a similar tactic every year to get me through the another-day-at-the-gym blahs.
I'm not a naturally competitive guy, I'll admit (as every coach I've ever had nods, checks to see if their hair is growing back). I never had the desire to be the world's best hockey player. Yet for some reason, when certain players would imply that they're better than me, it would eat at my soul. Even if someone like a scout or a team from a higher league would do it for them, by talking to them instead of me when I felt like the better player, I still wanted to go Alex Semin-style bongos on their stupid mugs.
When that fire got stoked, that's when I was at my best, so I had to try to recreate that anger as often as possible in the gym.
I could tell you the name of the person from each summer that I wanted to be better than. In many cases, these guys were friends and have no idea I used them for daily motivation. (In a few other cases, I took great delight in watching a certain career or two flame out before mine.)
And I didn't just want to be marginally better than the player I was picturing — I wanted to be in a league higher than them, I wanted to score more points than them, I wanted to run into them next summer as The Guy From The Higher League With A Bright Future.
I had a training partner who did the same thing, so for those last, super-difficult reps, we would remind each other of the other guy who was probably in another gym somewhere, facing the same question — "Do I call it good after that rep, or try one more?"
I've heard of guys using a variety of different things to give them that kick in the ass everyday — one of the most common is using the depth chart and ice time as the thing that pushes you.
When you look at the season ahead of you, you have to be realistic about what team you're going to end up on. There's nothing less productive than some ECHL dude setting his sights on cracking the Pittsburgh Penguins PP1, so you should probably be thinking about the right depth chart.
These guys would focus on the guys on their team from the year before, and know that if they could play at the same level and climb a couple lines towards the top, they'd be in a better position to make the league jump next year. With that comes more money, and with the weights in your hand in August, that can be a solid convincer to stick around for an extra 15 minutes in the gym.
It's different for everybody, but you have to find something. If there's nothing more that you want to attain, if there's no fire to do better the next year, it's time to stop. It's just…over.
I can't imagine what 40-something year old NHL players deciding whether to come back for another season or not use as motivation — pride? Fear of retirement and having to spend more time with their wives? Hunger for another Cup? Whatever it is, I have the utmost respect for those guys who're able to find it each and every year.
They may be quiet, polite, nice guys, but for them to train year after year, something somewhere inside them still burns.
We all have to find that at what we do if we want to be better.