Three Things to Teach Your Players (Zero are About Hockey)

By: Drew Carlson


Do you ever sit in bed at night and think to yourself…

I feel like apologizing to the players I’ve previously coached the last 3 years because I’m way better now than I was for them.


I feel like I’ve done a complete disservice to those kids for not knowing what I do now…

Maybe it is just my unique blend of neuroticism and imposter phenomenon.

The point is, I’ve learned things at 28 that I wish I knew at 18.

You know when I was still playing hockey.

High school and college education didn’t teach me these.

My junior hockey and college coaches didn’t teach me these.

But if you’re reading this and you’re 16,17, or 18 years old…

Consider yourself lucky for being exposed to these topics/ideas while you have time to relentlessly apply them in your life. I will link articles or videos where you can take a deeper dive and do some guided discovery for yourself.

But let’s get started with 3 things I wish I learned while I still was playing. Mindsets and mental models to apply to your game and your life.

1. Self Reflection Skill

There are 2 main points to be made here.

  • Self-awareness comes from self-reflection
  • Generic questions get generic answers, specific questions yield specific answers

Do you constantly question what, why, and how you are doing things? The answer when you’re 17 years old is, “probably not.”

But this is an incredible habit to get into. How intentional was that rep? What is the purpose of getting to this space on the ice when my teammates have the puck? How uncomfortable did I get in that last drill?

Intent. Purpose. Skill.

Become aware of these 3 pieces in everything that you do. It will become a competitive advantage over people your age.

2nd, ask specific questions. Both to yourself and to your coaches.

The best in the game are insanely curious. Tap into that lesson.

Instead of asking how can I get better, do some digging yourself.

Try this:

  • Watch your shifts
  • Mark down every time you kill the play (you run out of space, a puck gets disrupted, turnover, punt, etc)
  • Then go back over each clip and ask yourself specific questions that will get the answers you want.

Where is my immediate support?

Where is my next support?

Do I have a numbers advantage in this space?

Is a lack of support the reason this play dies?

Am I on the wall or have I built space to extend the play?

If I need to extend the play here, what is the first thing I should do?

Am I currently moving or stationary?

Where is my weight distributed on my skates? (centered, or on one leg)

Specific questions get specific answers. The best ask themselves questions and reflect.

Recommended Read on Self Reflection:

Great Article on Self Reflective Questions by Brian Kight

 2. Systems Thinking vs. Goals Thinking

Goals thinking killed a lot of enjoyment by making sure I was never present.

Goals make you miserable…

Now I know what you’re thinking. Let me explain.

Imagine you’re driving in a car on the highway. Your destination is 11 hours away. You are driving the correct speed on the correct pathway to reach your destination in the correct timeframe. But you’re complaining about not being there yet.

This is what goals thinking does to you. It takes you out of the present and focuses you on what you don’t have.

When I played tier 3, my goal was tier 2.

When I played juniors, I wanted to commit to a college team.

When I was in college, the whole point was to become a pro player after 4 years.

And I didn’t enjoy the moments. Full stop.

I was on the right path, going the right speed. Don’t get me wrong, I had “the systems” part down too, but I was more focused on outcomes.

If you’re on the right highway, going the right speed…

It’s going to take 11 hours, enjoy the ride.

The places you stop to eat.

The cities you pass.

The trees, the lakes.

So what can you do to focus on systems thinking?


Let’s go back to the 4 Coactives Model that make up the development of a player. For each coactive, you can associate a development activity with it. If you check the boxes with intent, purpose, and skill, there’s no way you can get worse that day.

  • Technical- Did I pick one skill to work on before and after practice?
  • Tactical- Did I watch and reflect on my shifts from the previous game?
  • Physical- Did I either train or recover how I should have today?
  • Psychological- Did I do any visualization or mindset practice today?

If you check those 4 boxes every day, it will move you further down the path to your goal. It will keep you going at the right speed.

One of my mentors, Keir Wenham-Flatt says, “you can’t try twice as hard and have a baby in 4.5 months. It takes 9.”

Deeper Dive on Systems Thinking:

James Clear Article

3. Inversion

Inversion is a mental model all about thinking backward. It will be difficult at first but then it will get to the point where it becomes what you want to do.

Let’s use another example:

Say you’re 16 years old and you want to play in the NHL. Instead of asking, “How do I get to the NHL?”

You would invert it and say, “How would I act to make sure I don’t get to the NHL?”

You’ll get specific, clear cut behaviors and habits to avoid.

Using inversion, you’ll get a pretty clear “don’t do” list

  • Stay up as late as possible every night
  • Wake up at different times every day
  • Stress out about things I can’t control
  • Practice in my comfort zone everyday
  • Skip skill sessions
  • Workout inconsistently or not at all
  • Never ask the coaches for feedback
  • Never watch film of my shifts

You get the point. Often the inversion is easier to see and do the opposite of than thinking in the forward direction.

You can use inversion for almost anything, here is another example of how to use it to find out what your values are and make them easier to follow.

Dive Deeper on Inversion with These:

How Bill Belichick Stopped the Buffalo Bills

The Case for Inverting Your Values

Inversion and the Power of Avoiding Stupidity

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