Fans watch the players as they make their way out of the tunnel and onto the ice for the games, then watch them as they disappear back through the tunnel not to be seen again until they return to face their next opponent. As a spectator, you see what happens on the ice, but are unaware as to what goes on behind the scenes.
In one of my previous blogs, I wrote about the importance of physical recovery. What is equally important, if not more so, is how these players are recovering mentally from the games and all of the hype, and utilizing their downtime to rest not only their bodies, but their minds as well; all of which happens in the privacy of the team environment.
At the 2010 Olympics, we were fortunate as players to have stayed in the Athlete’s Village. The Village not only served as our accommodations for the duration of the Games, but it also served as a protective barrier from the media, fans, and anything that could interfere with our preparation and focus. With barbed wire surrounding the premises, airport-like security screening, and snipers on the roofs of the buildings, there was no chance that anyone without an accreditation to the village would be able to enter, bother or harm us. Our time in the village was optimal downtime away from all of the hype surrounding the event and was used to recuperate, re-energize, and refocus. This downtime is crucial during a competition of that length and magnitude, much like the World Junior tournament, and is crucial in the success of the gold-medal-hungry Canadian squad.
Although the World Junior players do not have the protective luxury that we had in Vancouver, and are instead staying in hotels on public property, I know for a fact Hockey Canada and the staff are doing their absolute best to create their own protective barrier from fans and media in attempts to prevent any distractions from seeping in that may divert their focus. As a part of this protective barrier, they have established a number of team policies, all of which interestingly enough were set forth by the players. There are set times for media access, use of cell phones, access to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as when they are allowed to visit with family, and when they need to be in their rooms. All of these policies have been put into place to ensure that the players are getting the downtime they need to re-energize and refocus for the next task at hand.
At the 2008 Four Nations tournament in Lake Placid, NY, our team had John Underwood, President and Founder of the American Athletic Institute, come and speak to us regarding lifestyle and performance. One of the main messages he relayed was that true rest does not consist of being on your computer or cell phone, watching tv, or playing video games. Although you may be resting physically, your brain is still working, and therefore you are not fully resting your mind. Dr. Jensen, Team Canada’s sport psychologist, who I made reference to in one of my previous blogs, was at this presentation as well, and there is no doubt he has relayed this message to these young players.
Getting away from all the hype of the event is not only important in getting proper mental rest, but it also serves as time to spend bonding with teammates. As it turns out, not only has the Canadian team simulated the protective barrier that was the Olympic village, but they have also simulated the athlete’s lounge that we had on the 12th floor of the Canadian headquarters in the Village. The junior team created one in Banff prior to the tournament, one in Edmonton, and they now have one in Calgary. For the players, it serves as a place where they can just spend time with their teammates and get away from everyone and everything. Some of the greatest memories I have from the Olympics come from the time spent in our lounge, including frequent games of ping pong with Sidney Crosby and other members of the Men’s Olympic Hockey Team. These are memories that will last a lifetime, and I imagine that the players on the Canadian team are creating memories in their own players’ lounge that they will cherish forever.
From the fun times at hotels and on the bus, to the team activities and outings, and the pranks and hoopla in the dressing room, having fun and goofing around is no doubt one of the greatest parts of being on a team. At the same time, you cannot be doing anything that will interfere with optimizing your rest and recovery, or take away from your focus. I am sure these young men are having a blast, which is important, but they must still be doing everything responsibly, keeping in mind what resting really means.
As an athlete, you need to have tremendous self-awareness to recognize what you, as an individual, require to perform at your best, and the discipline to follow through with the execution. As this tournament continues, and as the excitement reaches its peak, what these players are doing in their downtime behind closed doors, will help determine what they will bring to the ice surface as they march through that tunnel to appear in the biggest games of their young hockey careers.
Author: Meaghan Mikkelson