The Importance of Mental Preparation for a Hockey Official
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Having your mind prepared beforehand is equally as important. Because in your role as an official you will be faced with situations with emotional players and coaches who want to win, you need to make sure you are mentally relaxed before the game. Before leaving the dressing room, take a few minutes to breathe and clear your head, especially if you have had a stressful day at school, work, or at home. Getting into a proper mindset is critical.
There are different exercises you can do to get your mind ready. Personally, I like to visualize scenarios that I know are likely to occur during the game. This is something that I brought over from my playing days, where I learnt that visualization is an activity that prepares you to react positively to situations, because according to studies your brain cannot tell the difference between visualizing an activity and completing it in real life. In fact, many studies show that mental preparation can even improve your performance. The book Peak Performance, by Charles Garfield is a great resource if you’re looking for more information on research that has been done.
An interesting look at how mental training has impacted sport performance is former NBA All-Star, Steve Nash. When he retired he was the NBA’s all-time free throw percentage leader. When asked about what made him so good – he would highlight that before he would shoot, he had already taken the shot 3 or 4 times in his head. Before taking the two shots that mattered, Steve had already prepared his brain and engaged his motor skills.
For hockey purposes, as a defenseman, I would visualize the puck getting dumped into my end and visualize how I would react to different situations. I visualized checking over my shoulder to see where my teammates and opponents were, I visualized getting back to the puck quickly, I visualized reacting calmly to pressure, and finally I visualized making a good pass or skating the puck out of the zone.
These same steps can be included in your pre-game routine. As a referee, I might visualize the distinct types of hooking situations I might be faced during the game and distinguishing between the several types of infractions I see, visualizing the impact the play had on the skater, understanding if the game needs that call, among other things. As a linesman I will visualize a hybrid icing scenario and try to predict the different situations that will unfold. Will the puck cross the goal line? Who will win the race? Is the goalie staying in the net?
These are situations that in a game you might be faced to decide in a split second. Having already visualized the scenarios before the game can provide a better reaction time in your decision making.
At the same time, doing proper mental preparation and visualization can provide added confidence to you as an official before stepping on the ice. Knowing that you’ve prepared properly can put your mind as ease and let you focus on the game at hand – without panicking about different situations that may occur.
To enhance your mental preparation, you should work with your fellow officials before a game to ensure peak performance as a crew. Good rules to follow in terms of pre-game and post-game practices include such things as turning off your cellphone before going into the rink. It keeps you focused on the tasks at hand and provides time to have a pre-game and post-game meeting.
Pre-game meetings between officials should touch on topics such as participants in the game, the league standard, centre-men taking face-offs, potential hot spots, and the history between the two teams. Just as important is taking a few minutes after the game to discuss what occurred and how improvements can be made as officials moving forward.
This is certainly the procedure that occurs at the NHL and professional levels, but I would highly encourage even working minor hockey to take the same approach.