By Dr. Alan Goldberg
Once upon a time… a very strong woodcutter interviewed for a job with a wealthy timber merchant. The pay was good, the merchant was said to be fair and the woodcutter desperately wanted the job to support his family! The merchant agreed to a trial period of one week and explained that if the woodcutter performed satisfactorily during this time, then the job would be his! The merchant then explained exactly what he wanted done, how he wanted the trees cut, split and then stacked.
Determined to do a good job, the woodcutter worked harder than he ever had in his life. By the end of the first day he had successfully cut down 18 trees and stacked them per his new boss’ instructions. The merchant was quite impressed with the man’s work and congratulated his future employee on a job well done. He then urged him to continue on in that same productive way and the job would be his!
Even more motivated by the merchant’s positive words, the woodcutter went out the next day determined to work even harder and chop down more trees. However, by the end of this second day, the woodcutter, who had pushed himself mercilessly and was now totally exhausted, had only chopped down and stacked 15 trees! How could this be? He left work totally confused by his lower production. What could have gone wrong? He vowed to himself that he would more than make up for it the next day. However, by the end of the third day, trying as hard as he might, he had only chopped down 10 trees!!! His output had dropped even more!
He wondered if he was sick or somehow losing his strength, which is what he said to his boss when he apologized to him for his poor production! His boss was equally puzzled and then asked the woodcutter, “Good sir, tell me, can I please see your axe?” The woodcutter went back outside and returned carrying the axe that he had been using. The timber merchant took the axe from the cutter and then ran his finger across the blade edge. As he did so, a look of complete bewilderment crossed his face, causing him to ask the woodcutter, “My good man, your axe blade is as dull as a block of wood! When sir, was the last time that you sharpened it?”
The woodcutter looked genuinely surprised by the merchant’s question, “Sharpen my axe? Good sir, I have been far too busy chopping down all these trees to take time to sharpen my axe!”
TO BECOME A CHAMPION YOU NEED TO “SHARPEN YOUR AXE!”
To get as good and go as far as possible in this sport, you have to take care of your equipment, and, as a hockey player, your most important piece of equipment is YOU: Your MIND and BODY. Are you getting enough rest? Are you taking enough breaks? Hockey is the kind of sport that serious athletes play almost all year round. However, to train all year with no more than a week or two off here and there is to not give you ample enough time to really rest. It doesn’t give your body enough of a break and it doesn’t give your mind the time it needs to let down and focus on non-hockey related things.
To stay motivated and enthusiastic about your hockey you need to regularly build in these breaks. Even if you don’t feel your love and passion for the sport waning, even if you still feel motivated to train 24/7, then you still need to take enough time off. This is critical for you and you will find that you will get a whole lot more mileage out of resting than you would if you continued to push yourself non-stop to train.
LESS IS MORE
This is the very same concept of working with weights and building body strength. Why are we always taught that if you do weights, you only do them three times a week with a day off in between? That’s because less is always more! But, if you can get really strong doing weights three times a week, why not double the output to six times a week and get twice as strong? Well, you know the answer to this silly question. In order to really build body strength, your muscles need time in between to rest and recover. Without this rest and recovery, your muscles would fatigue, break down and then you would be vulnerable to injuries.
PLAY OTHER SPORTS
There’s a myth that in order to be successful on the ice, you have to play the game year-round, and those players who take time off ice to play other sports, will end up hurting their game and falling behind. Oftentimes, coaches who directly pressure young athletes and their families to give up all other sports so the athlete can fully concentrate on their hockey perpetrate this myth.
Mentally, playing just one sport year round can lead to you burning out. Doing too much of the same thing can slowly erode your interest and stifle the fun of the game and, once the fun leaves, so too does your motivation and passion. Playing multiple sports will always keep you fresh and keep the excitement in the game. After a seasonal break to play another sport, you’ll look forward to getting back on the ice again!
Physically playing just one sport year round can lead to overuse injuries because your body gets into the pattern of over-using the same muscles and straining the same joints and ligaments. Year round play is one of the main reasons that there is an explosion of over-use injuries that then turn chronic across a number of youth sports in North America. To prevent this, it’s important that athletes regularly participate in other sports. In the end, because of the cross training, playing these other sports can actually make you a better hockey player and protect you from over-use injuries.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Another key part of “sharpening your axe” and taking care of yourself is for you to get in the habit of really listening very closely to your body. There are some coaches out there who pressure kids to keep training and playing hard even though the athlete is complaining about an injury! These coaches respond as if they know far better than the player about what is going on in his or her body! If your coach is pushing you to train through pain, and you believe it is more serious, make sure you see a doctor because playing while injured could set you up for more serious, long standing injuries that may hurt your overall hockey career.
As you know, there is only one kind of pain that you want to consistently push yourself through and ignore. This is the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt from hard training! When you push yourself to keep going through this kind of pain, you build up strength and endurance.
However, you never, EVER want to push yourself through the pain of an impending injury. This kind of pain is usually a sharper, more intense pain than the one you experience when you’re dealing with fatigue! This more intense kind of pain is an important signal from your body to your brain that something is very wrong and that you need to go check it out. Listen to your body, trust yourself and go get yourself checked out medically.
BEING INJURED AND IN PAIN DOES NOT MAKE YOU “WEAK!”
Listening to your body and making a decision to not push yourself to train when you’re in pain does NOT make you weak!!! It is NOT a sign that you lack mental toughness or courage! On the contrary! It is a sign of strength to notice that you’re injured and to take care of yourself by not playing! It is an “old school” model of coaching that encourages players to stay on the ice when they’re injured as a sign of their “toughness” and strength!” Don’t you buy into this!
Be smart about your training. Regularly take time to “sharpen your axe.” Play other sports, so you get a good break from hockey! Listen to your body and learn to distinguish between the pain of hard training and the pain of impending injury. Be sure that you play hockey because you love it and it’s FUN!
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