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I quickly see any player's skating weaknesses in real time. That's my gift. After that, it's only a question of applying the right corrections.

Eric Tremblay

Is hockey a game or a sport


This question, although simple, is at the heart of many discussions, everyone having their own opinion about it. To begin this debate, it is important to differentiate between the two categories of hockey; professional hockey, where players are paid to play; and regular hockey (including minor hockey leagues and amateur pick up leagues type of hockey), where players or parents of players pay in order to play.


We can already tell, without much risk of being wrong, that professional hockey is a competitive sport; because there is a great rivalry in terms of wages, player statistics are being closely followed, each player must make great sacrifices to reach the top and all seasons end with playoffs that crown the best team on the circuit. That being clear, what about minor league hockey?


First, if we judge by the often-disproportionate reactions of parents in the stands watching their children on the ice, there is no doubt that they don’t see hockey as a game, even though they pay.


It is always astonishing to see how many parents lose their minds when their child is left on the bench, or when the referee gives them a penalty, or when their goal is disallowed. Almost as if their life depended on their child’s performance! And all this despite repeated efforts of various associations who try to make parents aware that hockey is first and foremost a game.


Secondly, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the young hockey players who undergo their uncontrolled parental eagerness, there is no doubt that they would rather like hockey to be just a game, so they could be able to play it at their own pace, without pressure.


But to tell you the truth, if a parent takes his child's hockey future with such fervor, it is often because he is not fully aware of his long-standing frustration that he has from not having fulfilled his own dream of playing for the Montreal Canadiens or the New Jersey Devils when he was young, which has nothing to do with their child's performance on the ice.


And finally, in the midst of all this emotional uproar, we find the coaches who have to navigate daily through this torrent of unfulfilled expectations and incomprehension. So for them too, they certainly wish that minor hockey would be a game that would be taken much less seriously, trapped between the burden of the son's failure and the frustrations of their parents.


So in order to ensure that everyone understand clearly what’s happening on the ice as soon as the puck is dropped for the first face-off, we have no other choice but to shed light once and for all on the true nature of hockey.


Well, whether we like it or not, hockey is a competitive sport, regardless of age, skill or level and here's why:


If we put ten players on the ice and give them 10 pucks, there will be no competition. Everyone will take their own puck and skate at the speed they want, in the direction they want, as if they were playing on an X-Box or on a PlayStation.


But as soon as we put ten players on the same ice and put only one puck in the center, the competition automatically arises. All players will want to have this puck as long as possible and it will likely be the best skaters who’ll do. And believe me for testing it time and time again, a player who can't get the puck isn't having any fun at all!


So now that we know that hockey is not a game, does this mean that no one can have fun playing it? Not at all. Even though hockey is a competitive sport, we just have to find out where is the fun part in a hockey game and more importantly, how we can experience that fun part.


So when does a player have the most fun in a game? It's not very complicated. It's when he skates faster than the others and gets to the puck first. It's when he manages to direct the puck where he wants it to achieve a pass or score a goal. It’s when he’s able to read the opponent's play to intercept the puck and start a break away. It’s also when he makes a great hit, a good block shot to avoid an equalizer or when he encourages his teammates.


In fact, all of these fun times can be resume to one factor; the player excels in what he does. And to be that good on the ice, the only way to do it is to master the basic techniques of hockey - skating and handling the puck - to understand and execute offensive and defensive plays, and then ensure to maintain an excellent mental shape which will open the doors to any professional leagues.


But like so many things in life, it's easier said than done, especially when a hockey player isn’t aware of the importance of acquiring an excellent technique at a young age, so he can avoid developing and strengthening bad habits that would affect poorly the effectiveness of his game.


The human body has its own limits. A young player can constantly improve as he grows and builds muscle, but he will eventually hit a wall sooner or later. A player cannot propel the puck at 200 km/hour or make a full lap on the ice in 5 seconds. This results in all professional hockey leagues being judged by their reaction time in fractions of seconds. If a hockey player has not learned the right skating techniques early on for example, he will seriously handicap his moments of pleasure in the better leagues.


This is why I always keep in mind an analogy to explain my coaching philosophy; what takes the more time – to build a new house with a good base on a vacant lot or buy a lot that already has a house with a bad base on it and then build a new house on it with a good base? In the second case, it is obvious that having to demolish the house with a bad base before we can build the one with a good base will take more time.


And this is what makes my coaching so rewarding, because I am an expert in detecting the technical weaknesses of a hockey player and I am an incredible pedagogue to make effective and rapid corrections. This is why over time, I understood that parents who pay for my services do not want their child to be more competitive, contrary to popular belief, but rather they are concerned about allowing their child to experience maximum pleasure during a game when they perform at their best.


After all, isn’t that what we all want: to have more fun in life!


The 80-20 law in hockey


Have you ever wondered if there is a magic formula for professional hockey success? Well, I’m afraid I have to tell you that there is none, but on the other hand, there is a driving principle that all players who want to make a career in hockey must absolutely master and this principle is called the 80-20 law.


When our coach or our parents tell us that it is essential to give 100% in each game, they are obviously right, but only if we know what this famous 100% is made of. All professional athletes agree that success in sports is 80% mental and 20% physical. Why does the mind have more impact than the physique? Quite simply because it’s our mind that propels our muscles and not the other way around.


Now, even though this principle is incredibly simple, why is it so difficult to apply? Well, it's mainly because the time and effort that we have to invest to achieve success are inversely proportional to this 80% -20% balance. In fact, to be able to develop 80% of our mental shape, we only need to invest 20% of our time and effort, while we need to invest 80% of our time and effort to develop 20% of our physical skills.


So what does this mean for a hockey player? It means that to achieve and reach his maximum skill level and physical conditioning, his training will take 80% of his time and effort, as he will have to repeat extensively each of the movements he needs to skate faster and with agility, to master his stickhandling and shoot the puck with strength and precision, to learn to become a team player and to end up anticipating the play of the opposing team, time and time again until almost perfection.


Now to better clarify the 80-20 law when I first speak of it to my students and my teams, I take the NHL players as an example. I start by asking them how many minutes do they think an NHL player spends on the ice in a 60-minute game? Responses are typically up to 30 minutes, when in reality the average time is around 16 minutes. Then I ask them how long do they think NHL players spend in possession of the puck in those 16 minutes? Again, the answers vary between 3 and 5 minutes when in reality, they control the puck barely 45 seconds per game!


So if NHL players only have possession of the puck 45 seconds out of 60 minutes of the game, there is no doubt that when they don’t have the puck, which is a lot of time, then it’s their mental skills that will propel them to do the best during those 45 seconds. And that’s why 80% of hockey success depends on the mental shape of players.


First, they need to be mentally prepared to quickly know what’s the best play to make when they receive the puck, depending on their positioning, the positioning of their teammates and of their opponents that are constantly changing. And since hockey is the fastest sport in the world, players need to maintain high mental accuracy to be able to keep up with all these quick changes and avoid getting hurt.


Second, they always mentally figure out where’s the best place that they can be to receive the puck. They know that the times they don't have the puck are much more important than the times they have it, because they only take control of the play for 45 seconds within 16 minutes of ice time and 44 more minutes on the bench!


Third, in their mind, they know they are the greatest hockey players in the world and they take great pleasure to excel in the sport they love, which makes them act accordingly to that belief.  They perform greatly in their sport and make it exciting.


And when they perform poorly on some game nights, one thing is for sure, they didn’t lose their skills or their physical conditioning somewhere during the day when they did some shopping! Their skills and physical conditioning are still there, because they spent 80% of their time and efforts building them, but since they only account for 20% of their success, it means that it’s their 80% of mental shape that wasn’t there to uplift them.


And this is the root of the mistake many hockey players make when they encounter lethargy moments. Instead of taking some time to wonder what is wrong with their state of mind, they decide to invest 100% of their time and effort in improving their skills and their physical conditioning, that is totally unnecessary and destructive, because it won't change anything at the end.


If I can tell you today about the enormous importance of the 80-20 law, it is because I know how it deeply impacts a hockey player’s career, as I experienced it after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens but suffered a severe back injury that made me quit. I realize today that if I would have invested just a little more time and effort into my 80% of mental shape, my career would have lasted much longer...


That’s why I’m in an excellent position to recognize the importance of serious and effective training, optimizing the technical skills that the player needs to be in top shape when he takes control of the puck, but I’m in even better position to understand and acknowledge the great importance of mental shape which technical skills are built on. It’s that state of mind that will keep the player on the edge when he doesn’t control the puck.

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