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How to stop being a "Practice Player": by unlocking your Mental Software (in hockey)

Updated: Apr 28

Listen along to this blog on on my podcast here:

It’s often very hard for players to understand why they have the ABILITIES but just can’t make the plays they want to make.

You make plays in practice, but your skills rarely come out in games.

You might even be labelled a “practice player”.

Then you hear from coaches: “You just have to work on your hockey IQ…”

Then the question becomes: “Well what does that really mean for me?”

The most simple way to think of hockey IQ is making better decisions.

Making better decisions comes from knowing who you are as a player.

For example, a good decision for a player trying to be a shooter/sniper forward is different than a good decision for a player trying to be a simple/defensive forward.

We have covered this in the past 4 blogs:

Even though we covered a lot in these blogs, there is a deeper way to understand your decision-making that should help you a lot!

I call it “Mental Software”

It’s All Mental Software

So last week we talked about the 14 Archetypes.

The key to understanding archetypes really comes down to:

Understanding the DECISIONS a player makes on the ice.

These decisions can be thought of as INSTINCTS or Automatic Habits.

When we notice a pattern of INSTINCTS constantly being performed by a player over time, we consider this to be a PREFERENCE/TENDENCY.

EX: a player is constantly shooting instead of passing.


In the Hybrid Development System, we prefer to think of these as PREFERENCES or TENDENCIES because we believe they are like saying I prefer to do something and therefor I have a tendency to pick that when faced with other options.

So if you prefer to shoot, then that will be what your mental software is wired to do.

Therefore that is what you will tend to do.

If you had 100 two-on-ones last season and you:

  • Passed on 60+ of them (60%+) = Pass Preference

  • Shot or Passed about 40-60 of them (40%-60%) = Balanced

  • Shot on 60+ of them (60%+) = Shot Preference

These results tell you what your preferences is.

This is your mental software.

To measure a preference:

  1. Review at least 20 instances of the same general situation in your game film (EX. Open 2 on 1)

  2. Note down the decision you made (Pass, shot, deke, other)

  3. Identify your tendency and therefore your preference in that situation

Like it or not, if nothing changes and you get another 100 two-on-one chances, you will likely have the same preference as before.

Now i know you are already asking, “So how do I change the preferences I don’t like?”

Don’t worry, we will get there.

Be patient haha.

The Software Of The Archetypes

Just like each player has their own unique fingerprint, we believe that each player has their own unique Preferences that make up their own Mental Software.

The difference between a fingerprint and preference is that you can alter your preferences (more on that later).

When you combine all of your Mental Software together we call it the: Unique Hockey Identity.

Your Unique Hockey Identity makes you valuable because no player is exactly like you.

No player has your exact abilities, but also no player has your exact mental software.

If you want to truly UPGRADE your mental software you can check out the: Next Level Academy here

Though each player is unique, there is still some level of structure we can create to understand the type of player we are.

That is the Hockey Archetypes Framework.

We broke this down in detail in our last blog here: BLOG

Really the point to make is that there are certain styles (Archetypes) a player can play.

These styles come from the habits the player has on the ice.

The habits are just Decisions they are making.

And you can think of these decisions as Mental Software in the player's mind.

Making better decisions comes down to a player's ability to:

  1. Notice a pattern in the game

  2. Anticipation of where the play will go next

  3. Know the vision of what you want to happen in the play (consciously or subconsciously)

  4. Then make the most effective decision to create the vision you had in your mind (based on the resources that the player has, and the context of the situation)

(This is the simplified way of looking at Hockey IQ)

The best players have the best mental software because they are able to do this 4 step process very effectively.

That is why I think every player should be focused on upgrading their mental software as they upgrade their physical hardware on the ice and in the gym.

You want to be able to actually use the skills and physical capacity you have built.

Mental software is what tells it all what to do.

You Are Not Just One Archetype

It’s my belief that each player exists on a scale of 0-10 for each archetype.

It’s not that a player is locked into one archetype, but rather their Decision-making Preferences (Mental Software) is more wired to play a certain way.

As you can see, this player is a:

  • 8/10 playmaker

  • 6/10 Simple/Reliable/Checker

Therefore he is likely to be versatile enough to play both styles pretty well, but is going to be best at playmaking with his CURRENT software.

If you asked him to be a shooter/sniper, or more of a two/way forward he would likely struggle.

If he was put into a role that his software was not best suited for, he would need to do the work to change his mental software to align with the new role.

Often times players have the ability to play most roles, but their mental software is not there yet.

That’s where things like:

  • Zoom video coaching

  • Video breakdowns

Are very valuable for the players I work with in-season

Working Towards Versatility and Completeness

Before we get into specifics about reprogramming the software, it’s important to fully understand this chart

The idea of this chart is to try to constantly expand your abilities outwards.

That is what Belfry is saying here in this video when he says:

“Know your role, stretch your label”

As you expand your abilities, you develop versatility.

As you expand your versatility, your label expands.

When a player enters a higher level it’s common for him to play a more simple and confined role.

But he must learn to become more versatile and expand his game in order to stretch his label.

Stretching the label allows you to increase the role you are given on the team.

Then you can go through this continuous process of stretching labels, increasing role.

Versatility is important because as a player moves up leagues and/or change teams, they will likely have different roles.

As a player moves from the AHL to the NHL, he will likely have to move from being a more offensive archetype to a more defensive role at first (not always, but usually).

If a player has not expanded his Identity and his Mental Software to handle this change in role, he will not survive long at the NHL level.

So that’s why being complete is so important

What I mean is that if someone is truly a “Complete Player” then they will have a very high rating on all areas of this chart.

This means they can basically play any style of play or play any role and can be very good at it.

Avoiding The Trap of Working On Everything

“But wouldn’t becoming complete lead me to be average at everything first because I am working on EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE?”

That’s a very important question.

The key nuance here is that you want to master one of these archetypes at your current level as fast as you can.

Which I believe can be done through an intense skills and mental programming protocol.

Then you need to look to constantly expand your game.

Just like we said before:

  1. You must know your role - and master it

  2. Then you can expand your label

  3. Then you will get an increased role

Most players make the mistake of trying way too hard to master the top-end roles first by watching tons of highlights and scoring compilations.

This leads them to not being effective at the role the team needs them to play, and then confusion about why their coach doesn’t trust them.

It’s pretty obvious why this happens now right?

The Problem With Skipping The Preference Software

The problem I see with most coaches and people out there is that they ignore a player's software and expect them to just figure it out when they are given a role.

And yes, some players can adapt quickly.

But most players, need help to understand the key decisions and software they need to have in order to maximize their game within the role they have been assigned.

You have to remember, that it’s taken many years for a player to develop his mental software, and if a coach then asks him to change it, it can be very confusing, especially for younger players.

Even for older players, it’s hard because they have not been taught how to change their preferences effectively.

They are told by coaches to fix specific plays and decisions they make, but they ignore the larger preferences that really make the difference.

The reason the preferences matter is because no PLAY is exactly the same.

So when we are corrected on a single play, it doesn’t fully help a player because that play will not happen again in the exact same way.

So what’s the solution?

How To Change Your Mental Software

When a player steps on the ice, they want to just relax and flow.

They want to play “tension-free hockey”.

But that only works if they can trust their abilities and their software.

Most players work on their abilities in the gym and do the reps on the ice, but they do not do the mental work to play the way they want to.

To build the mental software there are 3 core areas to master:

  1. Build deep confidence and belief in oneself

  2. This means becoming deeply aware of:

  3. The negative Emotional Software holding you back

  4. The negative Belief Software you have that is holding you back

  5. The negative Thought Software (Self-talk) that is holding you back

  6. Learn to program your mind to have certain preferences in all contexts of the game.

  7. This means becoming aware of the type of style you want to play (Archetype)

  8. Then it means De-Programming the OLD Preference Software

  9. Then Re-Programming New Preference Software

  10. Using deep visualizations to program your Decision Making Software so you make the decisions and have the exact types of HABITS you want to have on the ice

  11. Learn how to master your focus and attention so that you can enter the flow state and maximize the Mental Software you have developed

  12. Learn how to keep updating your Software over time and of course work on your skills and abilities on the ice

Now you can:

  1. To learn all of that and spend hundreds of hours building your knowledge in each of these areas on your own. This will work, but it might take your whole career to learn a lot of this stuff


  1. Or you can join a program I build after spending thousands of hours learning all of this stuff, building a detailed system, and then testing it out with hundreds of players from ECHL, all the way to high school hockey.

If you want to choose the second option apply here to the Next Level Academy where you can:

  • Access everything In has built to date

  • Access coaching calls weekly where I teach the latest tools and techniques to improve your game

  • Awesome community of like-minded players of all levels

  • And more

(If you DM me “Preferences vs Abilities Blog” on IG I will give you an extra bonus lesson from the academy based on this for FREE”)

That’s my pitch for today.

Hope you crush it this week!

See you at the next level,


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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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