Incorporating Military Style Training for Peak Hockey Performance

By Tony Carlton, Fayetteville Marksmen

Drawing from my background as an FMF Navy Corpsman and current research in the Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) program at Pennwest University, I have acquired a deep understanding of resilience and adaptability, which is essential for my work with the Fayetteville Marksmen. The SPHL’s dynamic environment, characterized by frequent call-ups and player rotations, mirrors the unpredictability of military life, highlighting the critical need for readiness, physical conditioning, and mental resilience—key attributes for hockey players navigating the demands of a rigorous season like ours. Our achievements this season are a testament to the dedication and hard work of our coaches and everyone involved with the team, all of whom have adopted the same principles of resilience, adaptability, and teamwork.

The research underscores the advantages of integrating sport-specific and military conditioning to elevate hockey players’ performance, with targeted exercises enhancing overall readiness. This method’s impact is evident in the SPHL, where athletes dedicated to comprehensive conditioning show marked performance and career progression improvements. Emphasizing team resilience, inspired by military values of unity and collaboration, can transform team dynamics, fostering a culture that thrives on challenges and shared experiences. Crucially, cognitive resilience—vital for making quick, decisive plays—benefits significantly from this blended training approach, enhancing mental and physical agility. This strategy aims to supplement and strengthen training programs, giving athletes more options to excel on and off the ice. Incorporating evidence-based techniques like visualization, mindfulness, and psychological conditioning, focusing on effective goal-setting, is essential for enhancing game-day preparedness and fostering continuous improvement.

Visualization, or mental imagery, involves athletes picturing themselves executing perfect plays, engaging all senses for a realistic experience. Trainers can guide athletes through these exercises during training or cooldowns and encourage independent practice for pre-game and recovery. This technique enhances cognitive performance and primes muscles, strengthening the mind-body connection. Goalies might visualize making key saves, while skaters picture scoring or defensive success. Another example includes a 5-minute session for players to review their game performance, focusing on successes and areas for improvement.

Mindfulness in hockey training helps athletes stay present, manage stress, and maintain focus during play. It includes resilience and stress management to recover from setbacks, keeping players mentally sharp. Trainers can incorporate mindfulness exercises, like deep breathing and body scans, at the start or end of training sessions to boost focus and reduce stress. These practices extend to daily routines, such as mindful eating, to enhance present-moment awareness. Feedback sessions and resilience workshops support psychological conditioning for resilience. A practical approach involves beginning training with deep breathing exercises for focus and concluding with sessions for mental recovery and reflection.

Game simulations and strategic exercises translate physical and mental training onto the ice. These methods involve creating practice scenarios that mimic game situations, allowing players to apply strategic thinking and decision-making skills in a controlled environment. Trainers can collaborate with head coaches to ensure that physical training aligns with tactical game plans, making these simulations as realistic as possible. Strategic exercises also allow players to experiment with different strategies in a low-risk setting, fostering creativity and adaptability.

Recovery and injury prevention are crucial, particularly late in the season when injury risks from fatigue and stress peak. Inspired by military protocols prioritizing recovery and injury prevention through exercises and nutrition, trainers can adopt customized strategies like active recovery and mobility exercises and coordinate nutritional plans to support muscle repair and reduce injury risks. Highlighting recovery days and nutrition’s role is essential for sustaining athletes’ health and performance. Incorporating yoga or Pilates, tailored for hockey players’ needs, enhances flexibility and core strength, targeting areas prone to injury. Additionally, injury prevention workshops offer insights into common hockey injuries, emphasizing preventive measures such as proper equipment use, warm-ups, and cool-downs.

Outdoor training can be crucial in enhancing team dynamics and overall physical conditioning. We can improve physical fitness and foster team spirit and camaraderie by engaging in challenging outdoor activities like obstacle courses, team hikes, and circuit training. These sessions, set in diverse natural landscapes, offer a refreshing change from routine training, uplifting morale and strengthening team unity. Due to a demanding schedule, the Marksmen’s customary golf tournaments were scaled back this season.

Every league and team faces its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. Resilience, adaptability, and teamwork are universally important, but adapting these concepts to fit our teams’ specific needs and dynamics is crucial. By taking a flexible approach, we can blend military-inspired training with sports science to bolster our athletes’ mental and physical strength. Focusing on a well-rounded development strategy that emphasizes mental resilience, strategic thinking, and thorough physical conditioning can make a significant difference in our team’s performance, readying our athletes for the season’s demands and whatever lies ahead.


All photos courtesy of Tony Carlton.


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