Hockey is pretty simple…
All you have to do is pick up a stick and put a little black disc in your opponent’s net more times than they put it in yours.
Then why is there such a large skill gap between amateur players and professional players? Between house league players and AA players?
Let’s face it. Every hockey player passionate enough about the sport would undoubtedly love to play in the NHL.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it goes.
And the reason why can be summed up in 3 little words used by Chip Kelly, former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles:
“Win the day.”
Yep. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
These 3 words, however simple, are what separate the PROs from AVERAGE JOEs. They’re what separate you and I from the Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins of the world.
I spoke briefly in the past about adopting a growth mindset in order to improve at anything that you do—out on the ice and in your everyday life.
These 3 words—win the day—are the other half of the equation for successful development as a hockey player.
You see, winning the day means taking advantage of each and every day in order to become the best you can possibly be.
It means seeing every opportunity given to you as a chance to get better.
Those who win every single day are the ones who are most successful—in hockey and in life.
Your goal may not be to make it to the NHL…maybe you just play for fun.
But that doesn’t mean you should limit your potential.
In this article, I’m going to teach you more about how to win the day and apply it to all that you do in order to become the best hockey player you can be.
Near the end, I even share a 2-step process you can use to start winning the day and seeing tremendous improvements in your game.
That’s whats in it for players. If you’re a coach, simply instilling this attitude & mentality into your players can go a long way.
The ‘win the day’ attitude
When I was younger, I wanted to play hockey every minute of every day just because I loved the sport so much.
I was lucky enough to be able to join a sports program near my house that mixed both school & hockey—I would go to school in the morning and practice/workout in the afternoon (at the expense of missing out on elective classes which was fine by me!)
I loved being on the ice every day. It was awesome, and my skills improved just by being on the ice more often.
But want to know what really helped me jump-start my growth as a hockey player?
When I decided to win the day instead of just going through the motions.
At first, I was just a passenger—I would show up, go through the drills & off-ice training and then go home and relax, just to do it all over again the next day.
No purpose. No reason to get better.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved hockey back then too, but the program was more a way for me to get out of class—I didn’t necessarily see it as a way to improve to the point where I could make something out of hockey.
I really was just going through the motions at the beginning.
It’s only when Jim Webster—the head coach of the sports program at the time—pulled me aside to tell me something I’ll never forget that things really started to change…
He told me I had the potential to do something great with my hockey career, but that if this was something I wanted, I had to start making the best of the opportunity that was given to me.
Ultimately, it was my choice to make.
I could have kept just going through the motions. I would’ve gotten better, but not much better than the other kids in my program. I could’ve also gotten worse with time by building up bad habits.
Instead, I made a conscious decision to win the day—I chose to make the best out of my opportunity and improve as a player each and every day.
Most young players just go through the motions like I did.
The worst part is it isn’t even their fault.
No one ever tells them or teaches them how important practice & training really is in a player’s development.
They tell themselves, “one day I’ll make it pro,” and continue to do the same old thing each and every day without a plan or strategy.
I was the same—I wanted to play competitive hockey but just figured it would happen naturally, so I continued to just practice.
After having spoken with my coach, I realized I didn’t have the right attitude…
Drew Brees, star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, said it best in his book Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity:
“When you wake up, think about winning the day. Don’t worry about a week or a month from now — just think about one day at a time. If you’re worried about the mountain in the distance, you might trip over the molehill right in front of you. Win the day!” – Drew Brees
It wasn’t until I changed my attitude for the better that competitive hockey even became a possibility.
Adopting a ‘win the day’ attitude
By adopting a ‘win the day‘ attitude, I improved more in half a year of hockey than I did in two full years.
No word of a lie.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
It was almost like turning a switch on. I decided I was going to win each day and I made it my main focus both on the ice and in the gym.
Whatever we were practicing that day, I told myself I had to be better at it after practice than I was before.
Whatever exercises we were doing, I told myself I had to be stronger after my workout than I was before.
I know it may sound a little cheesy, but this attitude is the single most important thing I did to further my hockey career.
More than reps in the gym.
More than shots on net.
It was the conscious decision to start winning each day, and it had a trickle effect on everything else.
It was difficult at first, but after a while it became a habit.
Like I said, I improved more in half a year with a win the day attitude than I did in two full years of just going through the motions.
Players that I was once very much alike in terms of skill were now inferior, just because of the way I approached my practices & workouts every day—because I now had the right attitude.
This win the day attitude got me to a higher level of hockey, and even there things didn’t change—my coach in Major Junior (Guy Boucher) had a similar mentality…
He used to tell us before getting on the ice that we could either:
- Get worse
- Stay the same
- Get better
and that it was our choice to make each and every single time we got out of bed in the morning.
He would even make it a point to go around and ask us before practice if we were going to get better today and specifically what we were going to get better at.
This process he made us go through—without even realizing it at the time—is the exact 2-step process you need to follow to adopt a win the day attitude. It’s simple, and it goes a little something like this…
1 – State your intentions
First, you have to state your intentions. That means each and every day you get up, whether it’s a game-day, practice-day, or an off-day, state your intentions for the day. You want to ask yourself:
How will I become a better hockey player today?
Really ask yourself the question and think about how you’re going to improve. If it’s a game-day, you might become a better player by winning more face-offs than usual, or even preparing better mentally before you even step out onto the ice.
If it’s a practice-day, maybe you’re focusing on your one-on-one skills so that they’re better than yesterday, or you’re taking some extra time after practice to improve your hands in order to do a move you couldn’t do before.
If it’s an off-day, maybe you’re going to eat well so that you can re-fuel and be better prepared for your upcoming game, or you’re going to read a book on leadership to learn how to better lead your team instead of watching TV all day.
Just ask yourself how you’ll be better today, and find a way to carry out your intentions.
For me, it was things like:
- Today, I’m improving my leg power so that I’m more explosive on the ice.
- Today, I’m going to play every single rebound during drills in order to work on my skills around the net.
- Today, I’m going to drink more water and get a good stretch in so I can be more ready for the weekend.
These tasks, although little when looked at individually, lead to significant improvements to my game.
These are the little molehills Drew Brees refers to in his quote, and you have to get passed the mole hills before you get to the mountain.
Ray Lewis, retired linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, is also on the same page:
“Greatness is a lot of little things done well.” – Ray Lewis
By stating your intentions of becoming a better player by doing X, Y and Z, you’re setting yourself up for success on a very manageable scale.
Everybody looks at the big picture. The end result. They look years down the road. They look at the mountain.
What they ought to be doing is focusing on the here and the now. The molehills. The current day and what they can do to win the day in order to be one step closer to where they want to be eventually.
Nobody goes from amateur to pro without winning a ton of days in between.
Don’t just hope. Don’t just practice. Plan your intentions and set out to win the day each and every day.
These small daily wins, however insignificant they may seem, will lead to big improvements over time—sometimes even faster than you may think.
The next step in the process is equally important…
2 – Be accountable
At the end of the day, when everything is said and done, ask yourself this: “How was I better today?”
What’s the answer?
Were you better today? If not, analyze your work ethic. Was it adequate or could you have worked harder in order to be better? Be hard on yourself when necessary, and do what you need to do to assure that you win the day tomorrow.
And if you were better today, how were you better?
What did you do to make the intentions you stated earlier in the day a reality?
Hold yourself accountable, and praise little daily wins as much as you do big achievements.
Having an accountability partner such as a parent, coach, friend or even teammate can really help.
It’s one thing to say you want to get better today, but sharing your intentions and having someone else hold you accountable is the best way to ensure you win the day.
You can also keep a log book or journal and keep track of your daily progress. What might not seem like much today will be a huge improvement 30 days, 60 days, or even a year from now when you add up all the little daily wins you were able to string together.
If you really want to improve as a player, you have to stop going through the motions.
You have to stop just practicing.
Along with adopting a growth mindset, you have to adopt a ‘win the day’ attitude like all the best hockey players & athletes do.
Every morning, ask yourself “how can I become a better hockey player today?” Then, set out to act on those intentions and make them a reality with purposeful practice.
Every night, ask yourself “How was I better today?” Hold yourself accountable. If you weren’t better, figure out why and address it so you can be better tomorrow.
If you were better today, then praise yourself a little bit for having won the day, and know that you’ve just made one small step in the right direction. You’ve crushed one molehill on your way to the mountain.
Ask someone to be your accountability partner, and make sure they ask you every day if you’ve gotten better and at what specifically. This is the best way to ensure success.
Remember that greatness is a lot of little things done well, and those little things can be seen as individual days throughout your hockey career.
If you win every day, you’ll win at the end of the road.
Stop waiting. Stop hoping.
Choose to make the best out of the opportunities you’re given—games, on-ice practices, workouts in the gym, and during your free-time at home. These are all opportunities you can use to get better.
Win the day, and the rest will take care of itself.