Hockey is a much-loved sport across the world that comes into full swing in the winter.
The need for all athletes to remain focused during the cold season is more important than ever, especially with the uncertainty of how games and meets will play
As a former athlete growing up in mostly the midwest (and other parts of the United States and world), I had the tendency to "slow down" during winter months. Tennis was mostly what I focused on, and my siblings were all in traditional fall and winter sports, including football, hockey and basketball. Though 2020 has definitely thrown a wrench in all aspects of life, not just sports, I have seen a slowdown in momentum with my friends and their kids who are athletes as the winter months are now here. With my own kids getting to the age where they've found interest in athletics, I wondered how and what athletes who are active in the winter can do to keep busy and moving forward.
Granted, not everyone has access to gyms or training centers, and for the most part, many are unfortunately shut down at the moment. I piqued the brain of two trusted fitness and sports experts for insight on how to navigate this winter.
Tom Green, a fellow Iowan like myself, had sage words to share. A former college athlete who was later admitted to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Tom is now the owner and founder of his own gym, GreenSpeed Training, attracting a variety of athletes in the area, both professional and amateur.
"Traditional spring and summer sports should take the fall and winter seasons as an amazing opportunity to focus on getting as strong as possible," emphasized Tom. He continued, "Athletes have the tendency to focus so much on peaking for actual game day competitions that they will often neglect certain aspects of their sport that are critical for both performance and also injury prevention, such as strength training."
Injury prevention is such a huge thing for athletes that is often overlooked, and winter is a great time to re-focus on that.
"A lot of coaches and athletes are afraid that lifting weights during the actual season will negatively impact performance. As an Iowa boy, I played football and also lifted weights throughout the entire football season, but after the football season was over I would drastically step up the intensity and devote the next few winter months to the weight room. Indoors, while the weather was terrible, I focused on getting as strong, powerful and explosive as possible for the upcoming track and field season as a sprinter," added Tom. "Each year this off-season training set me up for success going forward throughout my track and field career. Each year I improved my speed significantly and I owed a lot of that to the winter training months spent religiously in the weight room. Not only does this strength training have tremendous physical benefits, but also the mental benefits of taking a break from the actual sport makes you crave it. It gives us an opportunity to miss what we're putting all this effort into. Taking a break from the actual sport is a refreshing way to reset and refocus your mind for new goals."
Those cold winter months he refers to is something I am all-too familiar with, but it completely makes sense to find a focus for your training if winter is not the season for your sport. My freshman year of college, I became friends with athletes who lived in the same dorm building as me and we focused on creating better eating habits. Don't get me wrong, it was a treat (and really, a blessing), when the local students and their families would invite us over for holiday gatherings and the food was delicious and plenty, but to keep on track, we started gathering recipes and books (yes, the "old school" way, off the internet) and started creating our own meals to keep us balanced and healthy.
"Winter is very hard at times to stick to diets, but honestly, it can be a fun and good challenge," commented Dr. Staci Papadakis, who is actually one of those students I did the healthy recipes with from our ancient college days. "You don't have to sacrifice the traditional holiday foods, but being mindful of how much you eat, what you eat and how you balance yourself can be done over the winter months. Try journaling meals and snacks. It's a great visual way to keep track of things."
Along with keeping up with how your eating habits can affect not your health and sports performance, mentally training yourself is just as important. I definitely found myself homesick during the college era, which often led to me skipping gym days. Another set of advice from Tom would have kept me with my streak!
"My advice for those who are lacking motivation is to find a "happy place." Somewhere that will allow you to recharge your battery," he said. "To recharge your positive attitude. We all go through cycles in life, but right it's even more important to get out of the daily routine which can often be incredibly boring and frustrating during these uncertain times. Spend an afternoon away from cell phones. Away from the negative news programs. Away from video games. Away from people in your house that are driving you nuts. Go to a "happy place" that will allow you to reset and refocus on your passions. What excites you? What stimulates your brain? What are your short term goals? What are your long term goals? And what inspired you to go after those goals in the first place?! You need to remember what these things are! Then go back into your world with a clean slate."
Tom also reiterates the "writing down" things as Dr. Papadakis sugests. "Physically write down a list on paper of what these things are so you can visually see them every day and then attack. Avoid going down the lazy path. Avoid the distractions. Avoid everything that gets in the way of achieving those goals. If you feel yourself drifting away from a positive attitude, then it's time to take another trip to your "happy place" for another recharge. Continue this process until you achieve all of your goals! Once everything is checked off the list simply create a new list with even higher goals. Each list is like a staircase taking you up to see the greatest views."
Hopefully these wise words from my two trusted resources will stick with you. Whether you're in limbo with your winter sport right now due to the pandemic, or if you're awaiting for your spring or summer sport to start, use this time in a positive way to continue pushing forward with your goals. We're on the brink of 2021, hoping for a better year ahead, and there's no doubt preparation now will help you get through whatever the upcoming throws at you, both in the athletic and personal worlds!