The Importance of Body Language in Hockey and How It Can Kick Your Game Up a Notch

Ben LevesqueHockey sense15 Comments

body language in hockey

You have an awesome game.

Then, you have a terrible game.

Sound familiar?

If so, your body language out on the ice might be the problem.

Not convinced? Just keep reading…

“Body language is a form of nonverbal communication where thoughts, feelings, and intentions are expressed by physical actions.

It’s time to kick your game up a notch.

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Body language can be seen in almost all of our day to day interactions with people—a smile at the McDonald’s drive-through, a deep grunt at the gym, a firm handshake and eye contact at the office, or a slam of the stick on the ice.

Body language in sports is extremely important—in fact, if you pay close attention to an athlete’s body, it can tell you a lot about how that athlete is performing.

Take a tennis match for example. If you land on a tennis match while flipping through the channels on TV and the match happens to be between sets, 9 times out of 10 you can tell who’s currently winning without checking the score just by paying attention to the body language of both players.

It’s the same in hockey.

In fact, a player on my hockey team inspired me to write this post—he was inconsistent in his performances and it made me wonder what was the cause of it all.

One game he would get five points, and another game he wouldn’t make it on the scoresheet apart from a few penalties.

It wasn’t due to having easier or harder opponents—it was really due to something HE was doing, and after analyzing his play over a few games, I noticed the one thing that stood out like a soar thumb—his bad body language after making mistakes.

If you’re an inconsistent player or want to learn how you can decipher your own body language out on the ice in order to become a better player, then this post will definitely help you out.

By the end, you’ll know how to identify both good and bad body language, as well as how to use it to your advantage to play more confident and be an all-around more consistent player.

Don’t think body language is important in hockey? Consider this:

Research done by the University of British Columbia studied blind and seeing athletes around the world. They found that all athletes made the same body language expression when they won a race — even blind athletes who had never seen anyone do it before.

How’s that for powerful?

And guess what—both blind and seeing losers have the same body language, too.

To be a winner, you have to act and carry yourself as a winner.

Let’s take a look at body language in hockey.

The importance of body language in hockey

bad-body-language

Body language, as I alluded to before, is extremely important in sports. In hockey—where all it takes is one bad play for you to head in a downward spiral of negativity if you’re not mentally strong—body language is key.

It can mean the difference between feeling completely confident with the puck, trusting your skills and capabilities, or feeling nervous and uncertain, leading to bad decision-making, mistakes, and a lower level of confidence.

It can subconsciously dictate your level of aggressiveness—this is a big one. If your body language is negative, you’re much more likely to take a bad penalty. My teammate, for example, would take two, three, sometimes four penalties once his negative body language kicked in. Sometimes he’d even yell at the referee and get into even more trouble.

In my opinion, your body language is what dictates whether you’re in the game or not. By in the game, I mean ready to react, make the right plays, and make the right decisions.

Something as simple as body language can affect all of this?

YES. It can, and it does. Negatively or positively, based on your actions.

It’s that simple.

Now, the good thing is that it’s not exceptionally hard to correct bad body language habits once you know what to look for in your own physical expressions.

It’s a two-step process that you can run through post-game—first you identify whether you played well or not, and second you identify how you carried yourself throughout the game (your body language).

It sounds weird, I know. But you’ll see how effective it is once you can self-assess your body language and react accordingly.

Once you learn how, you’ll be able to better control your performances.

Bad shifts won’t turn into bad games, and bad games won’t turn into bad seasons. Mastering your body language during tough times will allow you to get out of those dangerous slumps that seem never-ending.

Let’s take a look at how you can master your body language in hockey.

Step 1 – Assessing your performance

After your next hockey game, take ten minutes or so  and reflect upon your performance. Do this wherever you want, but make sure it’s quiet enough so that you can focus.

Ask yourself the following questions, and keep note of the answers:

Was I confident or nervous?

  • How did you feel out on the ice with and without the puck?
  • Did you feel in complete control, or did you lack a bit of confidence?
  • Did you make plays and really take charge, or did you look to give the puck away as soon as possible so that you wouldn’t make any mistakes?

Was I passive or aggressive?

  • Were you playing on your heels (passive) or on your toes (aggressive)?
  • Were you letting the play go by in front of you without really affecting the outcome (passive), or where you racing for pucks, making a difference and really wanting to be part of the play (aggressive)?

Was I in the zone?

  • Did you know what was going on during the game at all times, or did you find you were lacking focus?
  • Were you in the moment or were you just going through the motions?

These are all things you should take note of.

Keep in mind that you aren’t judging your performance here based on a score-sheet or game results—it’s about how you felt and the level of confidence you had during the game.

After you’ve asked yourself these questions, it’s time to consider your body language during the game.

Step 2 – Assessing your body language

What was your body language like in between plays? At face-offs? After making a mistake? After a nice play?

What about when you were on the bench?

Try to remember as much as you can about how you carried yourself throughout the entire game—both when things were going well AND when things were going bad.

Below is a list of bad body language habits that might help you pinpoint some of your own body language traits:

Bad body language habits

  • Slamming your stick on the ice or boards
  • Dragging your feet on the back-check instead of skating hard
  • Wagging your head when something doesn’t go your way
  • Slamming a water bottle against the floor or bench in between shifts
  • Kicking the ice
  • Keeping your head down after a bad shift
  • Skating back slowly on a change-up or slamming the bench door
  • Screaming or cursing after a missed opportunity

If you had a bad performance, you might remember doing at least some of the above (or similar) a few times throughout your game.

And on the contrary, if you had a good or above average performance, chances are you did none of the above (or very few).

Here’s a list of good body language habits, which you should try and mimic as much as possible:

Good body language habits

  • Being vocal when things go well—calling for passes, cheering after goals, encouraging teammates, etc.
  • Being vocal when things go bad—continue the positive comments, show enthusiasm and energy through your actions.
  • Lining up for the face-off early—this shows you’re ready to go and subconsciously puts you in game mode.
  • Moving your feet hard after a bad play—work twice as hard to get back instead of giving up.
  • Refrain from slamming your stick after a bad play—instead, tell yourself the next time ‘you’ve got this‘.
  • Smiling after a missed scoring chance because you know you’ll get the next one and it’s just a matter of time.
  • Keeping your head up and ready while on the bench, even after a bad shift. The next one will be better.

Improving your game with positive body language

positive body language

Now that you’re able to self-assess your body language after a performance, all you have to do is keep track of your efforts and make continuous improvements.

It won’t happen over night, but if you can squash even just a few of these bad body language habits and add in some more good habits, you’ll find yourself playing better, more consistent hockey.

The mind of an athlete is a powerful thing, and feeding your mind bad messages through negative body language can be disastrous to your performance.

It can send you into a never-ending downward spiral that can destroy your confidence. Not only can it affect your current game, but it can carry over over for an entire season.

It’s important to keep your body language in check and make sure you’re keeping your actions as positive as possible in order to play your best hockey.

What do you do out on the ice to stay calm and positive when things aren’t going so well?

Leave a comment below because I’d love to hear about how you deal with bad performances.

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About the author

Ben Levesque

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Ben has been playing hockey for 20+ years and has learned a ton from playing with the world's best coaches & players. Among his accomplishments are a National Championship, a President's Cup, a Semi-Final finish at the Memorial Cup, several Queen's Cups and a helmet in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

15 Comments on “The Importance of Body Language in Hockey and How It Can Kick Your Game Up a Notch”

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  4. Andrew Flemming

    Good article on what is ultimately emotional control/intelligence. Hockey is such a game of passion, it is hard no to catastrophize negative events, especially in pressure situations. Furthermore, body language is a strong indicator of one ‘a mindset. Those who are mentally tough/ resilient understand not only their own mindset and body language, but also how these traits project to and affect their teammates. Remain positive. Don’t let emotions and and the past distract you from the task at hand!

    1. Ben Levesque

      Hey Andrew! Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right. Sometimes, it’s hard to shove the emotions off to the side–especially when things haven’t been going well for a while. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your body language & mindset at any given time so that you can re-focus and re-stabilize when things start to get ugly. Cheers!

  5. Dave

    Hey Andrew,
    So true, in fact, I have found bad body language plays a significant role in how coaches view your game as well. It gets even the best of coaches focusing on what you are doing wrong instead of what you are doing right.

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  9. Pavel Karásek

    Hi Ben,
    Really nice article I hope I can Improve this. But its going to be hard, I suppose. When you explained your teammate I saw me it it. Even worse… But I know it. my last season was all you explained, neverending downward spiral… I hope this will help, and my next season is going to be great. If yes it would be your credit too because this website is awesome and found out a lot of amazing things there. I scare if I would be crazy like I was, my hockey career could have bad end, firsty no points, wins, bad performances, takeing off C, no confidence, no friends in team…
    thanks for this article
    Pavel

  10. Jim Sims

    Another great Article! Thank you

    As a hockey coach my experience with individual players has been exactly this article.. At the younger ages I pull the players aside (especially the head hangers)and remind them after they make a mistake….”It’s how you react after you make the mistake that makes the most difference…..go back out there and have fun!”

    With the older players its about post game reflection and improvements…I loved that part of your article best. A lot can be learned from post game reflection including some video review when needed

    Hockey is a game of opportunities!

    Thank you again

  11. Baljit Kamboj

    Hi Ben,

    I am very much impressed with your article. It has very important information for players of all level. My boys are learning a lot from your website and news letters. Thanks for your efforts providing very important tips for the ice hockey.

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