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Is Intensity the Missing Ingredient?

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All of us should know that the key to many successful people is a solid work ethic. When you look at the best professional or collegiate ice hockey players, the average person notices the skills they possess, but if you scratch beneath the surface-you will find out what truly defines greatness. Wayne Gretsky is a fine example. Yes, he has God-given gifts of vision which allow him to be a mental step ahead of everyone else on the ice, but he also has spent thousands and thousands of hours practicing his craft so that no one can claim that they have outworked him. Many Hall of Fame pro athletes have reflected that what kept them at the top of their game was knowing that if they weren't the first one on the ice or field for practice and the last one off, somewhere in the world was someone who was practicing harder than them. If they met someone who practiced longer and harder, they knew that other player would have the upper hand.

In today's society where immediate gratification is King, it is hard for many younger players to appreciate the long-term rewards and satisfaction of intense workouts where no one but the player understands the sacrifices to improve his or her skills. Everyone wants a quick fix. If I buy the best and biggest goalie equipment, the puck won't go in. If I buy the top of the line skates, no one will catch me on the ice. If I am a big and strong youth hockey player, then I won't need to workout because I can power my way through people now. Why should I practice hard now, after all, I am the best player on the team and the coach will always play me, right? These are all lies that players tell themselves because they don't want to exert the effort to really see what success can be. We kid ourselves that you don't need to practice hard because you are saving your energy for a game where it counts. This statement-I want to focus on.

Practice makes perfect, right? Wrong! As many fine coaches have said "Imperfect practice makes imperfect games." Intensity in practice using correct techniques is the only way to perfect any hockey move. First you must embrace failure as a learning tool. No one likes to look bad, but if all you practice is what you do well, others will learn what you cannot do and exploit the weaknesses. Baseball players miss 7 out of 10 at bats yet a .300 hitter in pro baseball makes millions of dollars. Top hockey scorers get stopped by goalies 6-10 times a game, but if they don't take shots when they have them, they cannot score a goal. Goalies may give up 3-4 goals a game, but if they make the stops they are supposed to make, they still put their team in position to win a hockey game. Failure is part of all sports and all of life and not to be feared as long as you learn from it.

There are hundreds of winnable moments in every practice where the forward, defenseman, or goalie loses an opportunity to grow as a player. If the defenseman or goalie always glides backwards in practice guess what they will do in a game? Don't you think these bad habits begin and flourish in practice? Each individual player must take responsibility to make their moves as fast and correct as possible in order to bring out the best in themselves and their teammates. If no one on the ice tries, what do you think the drills will look like?

You must also learn to try when things are not going well. It is easy to give up in a game where a bunch of bad goals have gone in or as a forward you cannot hit the net when you have the goalie down. It is easy to sulk and give up and have the excuses ready for after the game. You must develop mental toughness through the way you practice. If you always do things with meaning and intensity then even when the going gets tough, that strong character will shine through. I always remember a quote Hall of Fame NY Ranger goaltender Ed Giacomin gave after he beat the Flyers 9-8. A reporter said, "Are you upset that you gave up 8 goals?" Eddie's reply, "If they got 7, I was determined not to let them get 8. I didn't want them to get 9. I wanted to win the game, not worry about stats." That is the character of a winner. Sure, he wasn't happy about giving up 8 goals, but rather than giving up, he kept looking ahead for the next winnable moment that he could help the team.

If you play a bad game as a team and are down 8-0 after two periods do you think the other team should feel sorry for you? No! It is up to all of the individuals on the losing team to pull together and come out for the 3rd period as if the score was 0-0. How you play in a blowout says a lot about the character of the individuals on the team. If you battle to keep the team from scoring the next goal, they will walk away with respect for your team because you didn't give up. If you rolled over and failed to try in the 3rd period what do you learn? Often in life things do not go well and we get tested. I would rather be known as someone who never gave up because your character will shine through all types of adversity. So, in closing, think about your character. Do you do things as well as you personally can? Are you taking responsibility for your own skill development? Is your character something that others admire and seek to emulate? If and when you learn to practice and play with intensity, you will see how meaningful wins and good performances are because you know deeply the sacrifices you made to put yourself in position to be successful.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Trainin

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