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Hardware and Software In hockey: an introductory guide to the Mental Game (for hockey players)

For the majority of my early hockey career, I thought that hockey was a purely physical sport.


Hockey was played with the body, so naturally, I assumed that it was really only physical.


I had heard people say that the mental game was important, but I always nodded my head "yes", knowing that I really had no idea what it really meant.


Sure hockey requires thinking, but it wasn't clear to me how this actually worked.


I remember seeing a poster of Wayne Gretzky that said:





How did that make any sense?


I get that the mental game matters, but how can it be that important?


I remember reading that poster and thinking: "Well he is the GOAT, so I am not gonna say he is wrong, but I don't really understand what he means."


I didn't understand his point at the time.


What I mean is that:

  • I assumed it was normal to struggle to really dial into a game until the 2nd or 3rd period…

  • I figured it was normal to be extremely anxious before every game…

  • I figured it was normal to wish that it was just a practice day instead of a game day because I was so nervous about performing well.


It wasn't clear to me what I was struggling with in the mental game.


So fast forward to my junior hockey career at 20.


I kept hearing:

  • "The mental game is important."

  • "The best players have the best mindset."

  • "If you wanna be a great player, you must be mentally tough."


I kept on hearing all about how the game was mental and yet I kept assuming if I did enough physical work it would all work out.


If you are still in this boat, let me make it very clear:


IF YOU WANT TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PHYSICAL GAME, YOU MUST WORK ON YOUR MENTAL GAME

I Get It Now

I now know that what Gretzky was saying was right.


Yes, his math was off (90% + 50% = 140% haha) but he said that to drive home the point that pretty much everything we do in a hockey game is connected to the mind.


Though on the surface, it may all look physical, when we look under the hood of hockey performance, we discover there is a much deeper game at play.


The mind and the body really do work together to create your in-game results


If you have not been taught this in depth, then by the end of this letter:

  1. You will be clear on how the mind is like software, and the body is like hardware

  2. How both Hardware and Software play a deeply important role in hockey performance

  3. How to specifically think about your Hardware (Body) to get the most out of it (more in-depth breakdown coming next week)

  4. How to specifically think about your Software (Mind) to get the most out of it (more in-depth breakdown coming next week)


Let's dig in.


Hardware & Software In Hockey

Let's define the 2 key concepts one more time.


When you play hockey you essentially have:

  1. The mind (software)

  2. The body (hardware)





Here is the general step-by-step:

  1. The mind receives information from your body senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing)

  2. Your brain then processes the information and tells the body what to do

  3. Your body then carries out the instructions

  4. We get a result in the world

  5. Then our brain rewires to either do that again or not do that again (conscious or subconscious memory).





It might be hard to believe, but the mind (brain) is really connected to everything we do in hockey.

That is why understanding the interplay between your body (the hardware) and your mind (the software) is essential for optimizing your performance.


Now this might be obvious for some, but for others, it might not be.


If this is obvious to you, then this should be a great way to reinforce how important the mental game really is for you.


If it is not obvious to you, then I hope this is helping you really see how important your mental software really is.


Bad Software = Bad Performance

Often times players will ask me: "I have all of the abilities, I have seen myself play very well many times but I am struggling to really play at my best consistently. What is going on?".


This is a tell-tale sign that this player has the Physical Hardware and the Skills Software, but his Psychological Software is limiting him.


Psychological Software includes (but is not limited to):

  • Hardwired beliefs

  • Emotional patterns

  • Though patterns


Some examples of limiting Psychological Software included:

  • Limiting beliefs

  • Negative emotional patterns

  • Negative thought patterns

  • Lacking confidence


 If we have crappy Psychological Software, we are unlikely to physically perform at our best.





This analogy of Hardware & Software can help you grasp how important it is to both train your body but also train your mind.


Before we go any deeper into Mental Software, let's briefly overview the importance of the body's Hardware.


Next week we will go in some serious detail about how we approach Hardware Development at Identity Shift



The Hardware

Let's start with hardware because I know that most high-level players believe the body matters.


(Some of the concepts I discuss here might be concepts you have heard, but I included this section for completeness).


Understanding the physical components of your body—muscles, ligaments, and tendons—is crucial for anyone looking to optimize their physical performance and overall health.


Here are three key aspects to grasp:

1. Physical Structure

Think of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons as the hardware of your body, much like the components of a computer—speakers, keyboard, screen, RAM, and hard drive. Each part plays a vital role in your movement and stability.


Muscles:

  • These are responsible for movement.

  • Every time you skate, shoot, hit, or pass in hockey, your muscles are at work.

  • Hockey players do not require an insane amount of muscle, but muscle is very important for contact sports so you can make contact and take contact.

  • You can also think of your muscles like armour for battle


Ligaments and Tendons:

  • These structures support your muscles.

  • Tendons connect muscles to bones, allowing for movement.

  • Ligaments connect bones to other bones, providing stability.

  • Together, they create the framework that enables you to perform athletic activities.

  • Strong ligaments and tendons mean you can handle just about any contact or movement required for hockey.


2. Execution of Commands

The execution of physical actions can be likened to how a computer processes commands. When you press a key to play music, the hardware (keyboard) sends a signal to the software, which then instructs the hardware (speakers) to play the music.


Brain and Nervous System:

  • Your brain acts as the control center, sending signals through your nervous system to your muscles.

  • This process is akin to software sending instructions to hardware.

Muscle Response:

  • The muscles receive these signals and execute the movements required, whether it’s a precise shot in hockey or a powerful stride on the ice.


3. Maintenance and Wear

Just like a computer requires regular maintenance to function efficiently, your body’s hardware needs proper care to perform at its best and to avoid breakdowns.


Proper Nutrition, Hydration, and Rest

  • These are essential for maintaining muscle function and overall physical health.

  • Without proper care, overuse and injuries can occur, similar to hardware malfunctions in a computer.

Recovery and Injury Prevention

  • Regular workouts, mobility exercises, and recovery practices are necessary to keep your body’s hardware in top shape.

  • This helps prevent injuries and ensures longevity in your physical performance.



Why Take Your Hardware Seriously

Understanding and maintaining your body’s hardware is essential for several reasons:


Enhanced Performance:

  • Regular exercise, mobility work, and proper recovery practices strengthen your muscles, ligaments, and tendons, allowing you to perform at your peak.

Injury Prevention:

  • Proper care through nutrition, hydration, and rest reduces the risk of injuries, ensuring you can continue to play and train effectively.

Longevity and Sustainability:

  • Investing in your body’s health now ensures you can enjoy a lifetime of activity and avoid the long-term consequences of neglect, such as chronic injuries or the need for surgeries.


By viewing your body as the hardware that drives your mental software, you gain a compelling reason to prioritize its care and development.


This mindset shift not only enhances your physical performance but also supports your overall well-being.


Just as high-quality hardware is essential for a computer to function optimally, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons need regular upgrades, maintenance, and care.


 This ensures that your body can support your athletic and everyday activities efficiently.


By investing in your body’s hardware, you set the foundation for improved performance, reduced injury risk, and sustained health throughout your career.


Embrace this perspective, and you’ll unlock your full potential.


In the following weeks, we will be digging into a comprehensive guide on how to build your body's Hardware.


In the coming weeks, we will delve into a comprehensive guide on how to effectively build and maintain your body’s hardware, ensuring you have the tools to perform at your best.


The Software

If you skipped to this section, I highly recommend you go back and read the hardware section first, because this section build off of that section.


Otherwise, let's talk about the mind and the mental game.


Let's talk about where the commands are sent from: Mental Software.


There are three key things to know about what your mental software does:


  1. Instructions and Control:

  • The nervous system dictates how your muscles move.

  • This includes everything from conscious movements like skating to reflexive actions like dodging an incoming puck or hit.


  1. Coordination and Integration:

  • The brain integrates sensory input and coordinates complex actions, ensuring that all parts of your body work together smoothly, just like a well-functioning software system.


  1. Learning and Adaptation:

  • Just as software can be updated and improved, your brain can learn and adapt.

  • Through physical practice, mental practice, and experience, you can enhance your skills and reaction times.



Your Mental Software, which is really your brain and spinal cord (CNS), functions much like the software in a computer. (It's really your brain doing the processing though).


Your brain is responsible for generating, processing, and sending instructions to your muscles, controlling every action you take on the ice.


This is the most overlooked area in hockey performance (but people are beginning to realize it).


Imagine you had an amazing high-speed computer, but it had viruses and glitchy software.


The computer would be almost worthless.


Hockey performance is very similar.


A player might have the best hardware (physical abilities, like size, strength, durability, power, and speed).


But if he has no ability to use the hardware (Zero hockey IQ, very negative, zero confidence, angry all the time, doesn't care about winning), then he would almost be worse to have on your team than not.


People argue that McDavid would still be the best in the world without good Mental Software, I think that he would be a good NHL player, but nothing like he is. Not only that but without the mental software to stick with it and push through adversity, he may have quite the game before even reaching the NHL.


You gotta have players with the right mental software or who at least are open to being reprogrammed with better mental software.


A good coach can take a player who is open to programming, and maximize their hardware.


But it will be nearly impossible to coach a player with bad mental software and who is not open to learning.


So this is why I believe the most important piece of Mental Software a player can possess is:

  • Openness to learning and reprogramming



The Great Separator

When everyone is doing the same team practices and running similar drills, software separates.


When everyone is working hard in the gym and everyone can move similar weights and has similar athleticism, software separates.


I have had several NAHL player tell me:



I have had several players at the AHL level explain to me that:



Every player needs a Psychological Training System.


Not because they don't need to work on their hardware, but because their hardware will be wasted with poor software


What most people don't realize is that Skills Software and Psychological Software are really what separate the best players.


Now one might say "Well some players work really hard and improve their physical hardware (hit the gym super hard, and build elite fitness) which allows them to separate from other players".


Sometimes that is the case, but what is it that got them to do the work? → Their Mental Software did.


It was their Beliefs, emotions, and thoughts that drove them to do it. These are all components of one's Psychological Software.


If that person was told they would never succeed and should never pursue hockey… and that seeped into their Mental Software, then they likely would not have done the work anyway.


It was their Software that drove the actions, and the actions produced the results.


So I am not saying physical work doesn't matter, but rather I am saying we can't ignore the roots of the physical work and actions


We can't ignore Mental Software.



Taking This Info To Your Training

Understanding the hardware-software analogy can significantly impact your training approach.


It will lead you to take a more holistic approach.


to do this, there are four areas of training you will want to focus on.

  1. Mind

  2. Body

  3. Skill

  4. Recovery


They will need to be prioritized based on what you need to improve most and these will get the most attention.


I recommend you do the most important things first when your energy is highest and the lowest priority things when your energy is lowest.


For example, if you need to improve your skills, then do that first. If you need to get stronger, then do that first.


Prioritize, then execute!


This will help you have a complete training system!


let's go through the for areas one by one:


1) Mental Training (Psychological Software Programming)

Improving the quality of your being.


This includes:

  • Elevating your emotions

  • Improving your thinking patterns

  • Improving your pattern recognition

  • Improving pattern recognition

  • Reprogramming your decision-making preferences.


2) Skill Training (Skill Software Programming)

Emphasize motor learning and technique.


Drills that enhance your stickhandling, shooting accuracy, and skating agility help program your brain for better performance.


Repetition is key, but make sure it is high-quality work, not just random stuff with low-quality mechanics.


3) Strength Training (Hardware Upgrading)

Focus on building muscle strength and endurance.


Exercises like squats, lunges, and bench presses improve your physical capacity, ensuring your hardware is robust and ready for action.


4) Recovery and Adaptation:

Ensure that both your muscles and nervous system are well-maintained.


This means incorporating rest days, proper nutrition, mental relaxation techniques, and activities like yoga or meditation to keep your software and hardware in top shape.


Final Points

By recognizing the interplay between your body’s hardware (muscles) and software (brain/mind), you can create a more effective and balanced training regimen.


This holistic approach will not only enhance your physical abilities but also improve your mental game, leading to better performance and greater enjoyment of hockey.


Keep pushing your limits, both physically and mentally, and remember that both your hardware and software need equal attention and care.


Embrace this understanding, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more skilled and mentally resilient hockey player.


Share this blog with someone you think it may help!


See you at the next level,

Corson

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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.

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