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Don’t Cheat Your Hockey Player!

By Hans Skulstad, 06/05/23, 12:30PM CDT


It almost always starts like this. “How much detailed coaching have you gotten on your mental performance?” He or she starts processing. 

“I don’t know?”

“More or less than an hour?” 

Most of the time, the answer is less than an hour. I used to be disappointed. I still am, but I am so used to that answer that it doesn’t really phase me.

We cheat hockey players when we fail to give them detailed coaching on mental performance.

My “why” is summarized by that answer. 

It’s why I will be presenting at Minnesota Hockey’s High-Performance Summer Camps in Northfield and St. Cloud. The Goal: Give those hockey players a fair chance to learn a little bit about mental fitness and themselves so that they have a few tools to help themselves. It’s also why I’ve been doing it for over 10 years.

Maybe you have never heard of mental fitness. Here’s a link to a video that explains what it is and why I hardly ever use mental toughness. 

I have coached athletes for 20 Plus years. I am a parent of a high school athlete who plays 2 sports. Over the last 7 years, I have been a hockey development coordinator at Armstrong Cooper.  I’ve worked with numerous teams. Ones looking to push themselves just enough to win a championship, ones who have experienced an unspeakable loss or tragedy, and ones who want to invest time and energy in mental fitness because it will help to build a culture that thrives and teaches valuable life lessons.   

In team and individual coaching, I again hear they don’t get detailed coaching on things we often demand of them: letting things go, playing through challenging emotions, staying out of your head, and learning to just play. 

We cheat because we expect them to only learn it on the fly and not provide effective long-term adjustments. They miss out on how to actually learn the lessons that come from sports.

Herb Brooks famously said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities!” When we neglect mental fitness, we waste a great opportunity. We can’t always see great moments. Our athletes don’t always tell us when something “just clicks.” That’s the best, greatest moment. 

Sports have become one of the few things that unites us. Some, like Joe Ehrmann, the author of Inside Out Coaching, have said youth sports are a religion in the U.S. We put our kids in sports to learn how to get along with others, work toward a common goal, manage emotions, and teach life lessons you can only experience. Facts. And awesome.  

I’ve witnessed it in my own community when teams reach a season-long goal of making it to state despite it not being a regular event. When a kid improves so much that even they surprise themselves.

They also learn how to deal with difficult people. 

My dad used to tell me that names are changed, but people are the same. There will always be difficult people and difficult circumstances.

In the sessions, we teach athletes how to build two important systems. First, we focus on System 1, the Competition system. Its purpose is to give players the skills to play through the Brain Problem and reboot their brains. In the second session, the focus is on System 2, the Change System. We challenge the mental toughness myths that sabotage and elements of the 5 Star Mindset and habits associated with them. The two systems are designed to complement each other and compound results.

Both help athletes change their futures so that they know how to just play. 

I need to confess. I left out something. I have one other agenda with these two systems. It’s to change conversations. Over my career, the stigmas around talking about mental health and seeking help for it have faded. Yet, we have large numbers of people struggling with mental health. 

I believe talking about mental health and mental fitness is a great way to start a conversation with you. It’s also a great place to start with our hockey players. My hope is that someday it will be as ok to talk about getting help with either as it with using a skating coach or a skills instructor. 

Pay attention to your snail mail and/or your email. We’ll be sending out a worksheet covering what your kid learned with us. It will be a great opportunity for you to learn.

Someday, your kid will thank you for not cheating them. When that happens, it may be a great moment that has come from the great opportunity to change the conversation to mental fitness and mental health.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing, follow us on our social channels - Instagram @CenterforSportsandMind, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Or sign up for a weekly or monthly newsletter here. You can email me directly to find out more at We would love to tell you more about our Foundations of Mental Fitness Course this summer.