Mental Toughness Enio Sacilotto Ice Hockey Coach Tips and Drills Victoria Royals

Part 2 | 3 Practical Exercises to Find The Key to Mental Toughness

In Leadership by Enio Sacilotto

In my last post we looked defined what both concentration and focus are. Today we will look at three exercises that will help you improve your focus. Athletes who understand how to focus have the ability to have peak performances regardless of pressure.

Exercise #1: What Do You Control?

In our last newsletter we discussed the importance of identifying key parts of your game that need to be focused on. We also looked at identifying the distractions that prevent you from being your best. This exercise will help you determine what a focus point is and what a distraction is. You will quickly learn that you can basically draw a line right in the middle and clearly define both. This exercise will make it cut and dry for you.

Our first task is to identity the “important stuff” (within your control) and the“unimportant stuff” (not in your control). Examples of important stuff to focus on are:

  • getting enough rest
  • eating well
  • having the right attitude
  • your job on the ice

Regarding your job on the ice, look at it this way: if you’re a defensemen making the first pass or if you’re a forward going to the net after your shot – both are examples of focusing on your job. Examples of unimportant stuff can be your reaction when you make a mistake, the referee making a bad call or the coach yelling at you. Not that they ever yell, right?

What this exercise shows you is that your main concern needs to be focusing on the things you can control. Put your time and energy into the stuff where you can impact change through effort.

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Exercise #2: Creating Concentration Cues

Train the mind and the body will follow. Concentration cues are important because when you lose focus cues can help bring you back to the present and help you re-focus on the task at hand. These cues or statements can be action words such as move your feet or instructional words such as play the body or stick on puck. They can also help you maintain emotional control when you make a mistake or a referee makes a bad call. Forget it and focus. Cues can also be position specific. It is very important that you create your own concentration cue words and stay consistent with them. Here are a few guidelines:

    1. The cue words need to be specific to your needs –Picture yourself in your mind’s eye performing your absolute best – what comes to mind? Write the words down. Take the time to do this exercise as the more believable and specific the cue words are the more effective they will be.
    2. Be positive. Focus on the behaviour you want rather than what you don’t want. If you need to use your cue words after a mistake, focusing on the negative behaviour is something you don’t want. Always think positive!
    3. Keep your phrases short. Your word or statement is needed to re-focus and in sports refocusing needs to happen quickly.
    4. Once you have established your key words you need to use them every time you’re on the ice, including practice, games and even shinny with the boys.

Visualize yourself in one of your unimportant stuff situations. Feel the emotion, engage with the anger or whatever it is you’re feeling. Then use your cue words to bring yourself back, calm, focused and ready. Practice is so important in these situations.

Exercise #3: Regaining Focus

When you’re in the heat of battle it’s important to be in the present. You don’t need to worry about the past (your last mistake, last game, etc.) or the future (result of the game). You need to focus on what you’re doing now. This of course is easier said than done. Keeping concentration is a two part process:

  1. Recognize when your concentration drifts away
  2. Return quickly bring your focus back to the now

Everyone loses their focus and concentration at one time or another. The key is to come back to the now quickly. So, to develop your mental muscles:

  1. Get yourself in a quiet room with a puck. Sit three feet away, pick a spot on the puck and focus on it.
  2. Put all your attention on the puck. Use your breathing, inhale and focus on your breath, and exhale – as you exhale, use a cue word such as puck, now, or breath.  Repeat.
  3. Maintain your concentration and focus for as long as possible. Fight against distractions!
  4. If you feel like you’re drifting off, bring yourself back to the now and refocus on the puck. Recognize and return – this is the key. Remember to breath and say your cue word.

Do this about two minutes every day and your concentration will increase as you keep practicing. The idea is to transfer this skill to game situations.

Just like skills used on the ice, exercises designed to help your concentration and focus improve with time and practice. You work on your shot, your fitness and nutrition, so work on your mental skills as well.

These three exercises done on a regular basis will help you to be mentally strong when peak performances are needed under all different types of pressure.

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About the Author
Enio Sacilotto

Enio Sacilotto

Enio Sacilotto is the President of International Hockey Camps and the Director of Player Development for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League. You can call Coach Enio at 604 255 4747 or email at to talk shop any time.


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