While I'm sure we've all heard the saying, "practice how you want to play", the truth behind that message still gets lost on a lot of players and teams.
I always like to refer to this as the "magic switch".
There's no such thing as a magic switch that you can just flip on as a player or team and instantly play your best (at least for 99% of the people playing hockey in the world, that statement is true...).
Some people might disagree with this statement a bit, but I'm a huge believer in it.
I always think that the practice before a game is very indicative to how a team, or individual, is going to start the next day.
When there's a lack of focus and work ethic in practice there's usually a corresponding slow start to the next game.
And when I'm talking about a 'bad' practice, I'm not even referencing the execution. I'm referring directly to the attitude, focus, and work ethic of the group.
We all can have bad days where things don't click, but when the things we can control as players don't show up to the rink, that's when I'm concerned as a coach.
The same can be said for an individual working on a skill or even taking a lesson. The work ethic, attitude, and focus are the most important measurements of engagement for me.
I know that if you're bringing those three qualities to the ice, it's going to be a successful day.
Even if the execution isn't perfect, the subconscious habits that you're building are what's really important.
So what do we do about it?
As coaches, I think it's important that we don't always over stress the execution of drills and systems in practice. Trust me, I know it can be frustrating at times when it seems like no one can make a pass or handle the puck, but don't over stress the execution.
Pay attention to your teams engagement into the drills and practice. What kind of attitude did they bring to the rink? Is there a lot of communication, or is it quiet on the ice?
Usually, when players have a good attitude, are upbeat and talking, it's going to be a good day. And usually, when you have those things going, the execution portion of practice comes along with it.
For players, it's important to keep things simple. Remind yourself daily to only worry about the things you can control. I know that sounds easy in theory and can be tougher when real life gets in the way, but if you can work on training your mindset to think that way, I guarantee you'll turn into a more consistent player.
The other thing I talk about is perspective. Remember why you love the game and why you play it. It's amazing how something so simple, and something that really only takes a few minutes at most, can drastically change your attitude and perspective about the day.
So remember, whether you're a player or a coach, if you can focus your attention in practice to the things you can control (like work ethic, attitude, and focus) the consistency that will be created will make a huge impact on your season.
Every day is an opportunity to get better and enjoy the greatest game on Earth. Make sure you truly cherish that opportunity.