The purpose of this research was to explore how National Hockey League (NHL) players developed mental skills over the course of their careers. Retrospective semi-structured interviews were conducted with six current or former NHL players. Participants had 1-13 seasons of NHL experience (M years of NHL experience = 9, SD = 4). Interview transcripts were analyzed using a thematic analysis. We identified three stages of mental skills development. The first stage was characterized by the development of personal characteristics and life skills (rather than mental skills per se) during participants' early involvement in hockey. Personal characteristics and life skills included interpersonal skills (e.g., respect, building relationships), and commitment and effort (e.g., work ethic, deliberate practice). The second stage, performance characteristics development, involved the development of focus (e.g., self-awareness and being 'present') and confidence (e.g., positive mindset and perseverance), most often beginning during the participants' junior hockey career. The third stage was performance skills development, which reflected the development of performance-specific mental skills. This typically occurred during our participants' professional careers. At this point in their careers, participants appeared to possess discreet mental skills (e.g., visualization, goal setting, self-talk, and self-reflection) and were able to strategically use these skills in pre-, during-, and post-game routines. Overall, this study suggests that the development of personal characteristics, life skills, and performance characteristics set a foundation for the later development of performance-specific mental skills. From a practical perspective, these findings may be useful for informing mental training approaches for young hockey players.
Acknowledgments: This project received funding from a Mitacs Accelerate partnership [IT12607].