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Moving up levels in hockey is a mental game... (Let me explain)

Updated: Jul 12

Recently I had a conversation with a player in the AHL who just finished up his first full season there.

I was talking to him about what it's like to make the jump from NCAA D1 to the AHL.

Since I didn't make that jump myself, I am constantly asking players so I can deeply understand the situation.

I know that as I help more players as a coach, having a deep knowledge of the nuances here is what will help my guys separate themselves.

After talking with this AHL guy for quite a while, one point really stuck out to me…

He said: "When you make the jump from NCAA D1 to the AHL you are on your own with a lot of your development. You might not expect it, but you are expected as a young man to figure out how to be a successful pro on and off the ice."

I could relate to this concept as someone who went from minor hockey to junior hockey and realized quickly that it is on you to step up and take control of your development.

This is also similar to how I feel as an entrepreneur now. It's on me to develop myself and my business just like a pro hockey player must develop himself and his ability to perform on the ice.

Unlike minor hockey where your parents are there with you to guide you, once you move away from home in junior, college, and pro it becomes your job to figure it out.

No one is going to hold your hand.

He said that it feels quite similar to the minor to junior jump, except that now you're income depends on it!

I found this quite interesting because most people assume that when a player moves to pro, they take care of everything for you.

I always had this vision as a kid that once you made pro, you were set and all you had to do was work hard.

But that is far from the case.

It's on you to step up and earn your spot.

Easier said than done.

The Business Of Hockey Moves Fast

As you move up levels in hockey, there are fewer and fewer spots available.

There are about 700 jobs in the NHL and 700 jobs in the AHL.

There are thousands of players who are ready to take those spots.

When you move up levels, you almost always have to perform right away.

There must be a short learning curve where you figure your game and lifestyle out fast, or you will be cut very quickly.

This is because teams have to make a choice between:

  • The risk of investing timing, money, and energy in "developing" you (which might not work out).

  • Or bringing in a new player who might not need as much developmental investment

This is the business of competitive sports.

You might not like it, but it's how the world works.

Other people are trying to do their job and be successful just like you are.

It's your job to be a great hockey player, it's other people's job to see that and give you opportunities to keep getting better so their organization can win.

Hockey players are like contractors who must be ready to step in and do a job for the team and accept that if they do not do their job, then they will be removed.

It's not easy to handle this stuff mentally.

I get it.

That is why you have to be so mentally prepared for these jumps.

I know I might be repeating myself a bit here, but it's because I want you to avoid the mistakes I and so many others have made.

Making The Shift

For most players moving up to junior, college, or pro, they suddenly go from "the man" in college… to the bottom of the team hierarchy in pro.

This of course happens in junior hockey, and college for most players too.

But things are a bit different for players who are between ages 18 to 25 in pro.

You are expected to now figure out both on and off-ice life to be successful.

Not to mention, hockey is now your livelihood. So that really turns up the pressure to succeed.

The Mental Barrier

Jumping into high-level pro, a lot of players have the skill and physical capacity to compete right away.

The challenge is really mental.

I say this because nearly every pro player I have talked to has told me this.

Yes, you have the star players who don't face as much adversity.

But for 99% of players, it's really about what they do mentally to separate themselves as they deal with challenges such as:

  • Moving to a new place

  • Managing their body and recovery

  • Dealing with a constantly changing schedule

  • Being a bottom 6 guy

  • Getting scratched

  • Limited ice time

  • Playing with new players

  • Changing expectations from coaching and management

How a player deals with these challenges will determine how successful he is.

How a player deals with these challenges will be determined by his mental software.

Yet very few players are taught how to upgrade their mental software.

What Does It Mean To Upgrade Your Mental Software?

The way I see upgrading your mind really comes down to seeing your brain as mental software.

Just like an iPhone, or laptop has operating software (OS), so does your brain.

Your mental software is the neurological wiring of the brain.

Within the software, we have the apps.

I have determined that we have approximately 18 core apps that a player can develop in hockey.

(There will certainly be more that we discover as time goes on)

Each of these apps in your mental software has many details to it, but here they are all displayed:


Everyone has these apps in their mind as a hockey player if you did not, then you would really struggle to play hockey.

The unique combination of these apps makes up who you are as a player (your Player Identity).

And just like your iPhone and the apps on your iPhone, your brain and the apps in your brain need constant updates to keep working optimally.

That is really what I do when I work with a player.

We work together to upgrade every single app in their Mental Software

The Next Level Academy

I don't usually opt to try and sell you guys on any of our programs, but I do want to explain why these programs exist and my vision for them.

Our main group coaching program "The Next Level Academy" is designed to help players develop the mental software (mentality, confidence, hockey IQ, skills, and training approaches) of the best athletes in the world.

It's a complete training system covering the mind, body, skills, and more.

My goal is to create the world's most complete online training Academy so any player 15 and up can come into the program, stay for 5+ years and maximize their development.

It's about making a community of the most driven players in the world and helping them:

  • Maximize their development

  • Find a community of people like them

  • Sign the biggest contracts possible and make the most money

  • Have the most possible fun playing hockey

I plan to make this the program that I could only dream of as a kid.

I plan to bring in world-class coaches and trainers.

I am so grateful to live in a world where getting to do this is possible.

The Holistic Approach Is Missing

It's not something that I have seen discussed very well.

Yes, there are in-person academies that offer pretty holistic solutions.

Yes, there are lots of programs on maybe 1 or 2 of these, but now a fully integrated system.

I have experienced the jump from AAA to junior C, to junior B, to junior A, to NCAA.

I wish I could have had access to the programs I have now built because it would have made me a better player, but it also would have made playing a lot more fun!

I know all of those jumps I mentioned are hard, but the pro jump is even harder.

I hope I can help you make these jumps more effective no matter what level you are jumping making in your hockey career.

The Mental Game and Holistic Approach

Hockey is not just a physical game; it's a mental one too.

As you progress through the levels of hockey, the mental aspect becomes increasingly important.

While physical skills can get you noticed, it's your mentality and approach to the game that will ultimately set you apart.

The Mental Barrier

Jumping into high-level pro, many players have the skill and physical capacity to compete right away.

The challenge is really mental.

Nearly every pro player I've talked to has emphasized this.

Yes, you have the star players who don’t face as much adversity, but for 99% of players, it's about what they do mentally to separate themselves.

Challenges such as moving to a new place, managing their body and recovery, dealing with a constantly changing schedule, and adapting to new team dynamics can be overwhelming.

How a player deals with these challenges will determine their success.

It's all part of the mental game.

So go work on your mental game!

Now go crush it this week!

  • 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.


When You're Ready, Here's How I Can Help You:

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