August 23, 2011
No sport emphasizes the need for consistency quite like golf. Anyone who plays the game is plagued by a certain teeth-clenching frustration:
You've hit the exact same shot that you just shanked off your friend's ankle very well at least a few times before. You know you can do it, so why are there times when you just … don't?
To try to minimize the bad shots, golfers use a pre-shot routine.
For hockey players trying to become more consistent in their own sport, it can help to take a page out of that book. (Before the game, I mean. Doing it during the game might get you hit very, very hard.)
As a guy who (badly) lacked consistency during my days as a player, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was doing differently before games that was causing me to mysteriously not have any legs one night, then come out like gangbusters the next time out. It was the same problem with my decision-making — I'd be mentally sharp and play well on a Friday, then on Saturday I'd have three assists … all to the other team on brutal D-zone turnovers.
The frustration was similar to what I'd felt on the golf course in the past — when I put it all together, I could be a hell of a player. On nights, my legs and head were filled with solid lead, I could be a waste of a jersey.
To avoid getting benched/cut/actually cut by my coach, something had to change. I needed more discipline.
For years, if I wanted to go to the mall for a bit on gameday, I would. Maybe the next day I'd take a four hour pre-game nap. I basically did whatever I felt like, because, hey — I ate chicken and pasta, what's the difference?
The "guess and test" method of research helped me find out that consistency would minimize just how bad I could be on "off" days. Apparently when you're playing against guys who are trying to get to that league where they make you rich and well-known, you need to take it sort of seriously.
Veteran guys seemed to have two parts to their pre-game routine, so I tried to mimic that.
The first starts after your game the night before, and is crucial to feeling good physically the next day. (Obviously if you didn't play the night before, just eat well and get to bed at a decent hour and you're done).
You need to hop on a bike and flush those legs out so they aren't dead weight in the morning. Combining that with the cold tub was, for me, the best way to get my legs feeling good the next day. The physical stuff should be easy for players who are in shape.
The second part, the stuff that you actually do on game day, is where you get your head together.
I stopped doing as a pleased during the days (in favor of a walk, a meal, and a nap), and started to turn more attention to how I prepared at the rink.
There, I ordered my to-do list so things got more serious as the game got closer — it would start with a cup of coffee and tending to my sticks. Then a few minutes of soccer with the guys. Then a nice dynamic stretch. Then the team meeting. Then a few minutes of mentally going over the systems, picturing my role in the offensive zone forecheck, the neutral zone forecheck, and our breakouts.
Then the gear went on, and I was ready to go.
That consistency gave me confidence when I stepped on the ice that I was ready to compete mentally and physically.
Younger players figure that if they're talented, that will take them where they need to be. But there are a lot of talented players — NHL level talents — bouncing around the minors playing for coaches who want to strangle them, putting up four points one night, then not being seen for the next three.
Golfers use that pre-shot routine as their "OK, it's go time" trigger, and hockey players can do the same. The best way to find a more consistent on-ice game is to be consistent before it.