After a lifetime of playing high-level hockey, including four years at the University of Michigan, nineteen years as a professional, and a Stanley Cup Championship ring, Mike Knuble has learned a thing or two about what it takes to be successful and enjoy longevity on the ice.
Now that his professional career is over, Mike is in a sharing mood, and here he shares with us seven pieces of key advice that will ensure success for young hockey players looking for playing careers as long as his.
1. Play hockey with many different people
There is comfort that comes with playing with the same people year after year, but Mike says young hockey players that are developing should play with as many different people as they can. That way, they’ll be able to play well with any collection of talent once they reach a high level.
“In both hockey and life, you have to get along and play with people from different walks of life, and the only way to be successful as a team is for all of you to help each other do your jobs to the best of your ability,” Mike explained. “You might be from different places and backgrounds, but it has to be all about the hockey when it’s time to play hockey.”
2. Make sure you play in meaningful games
While it may seem like professional hockey players are cool under pressure, Mike says this ability to focus and remain calm is developed from playing in meaningful games and tournaments when players are younger. That way, when they reach overtime of game seven during the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ll be able to handle it.
“Learning to play when a lot of people are watching and learning to cope with the pressure of the importance of a game is a good thing to get used to,” Mike said. “When you get used to playing in tournaments and the finals of tournaments, the pressure is less intimidating each time. Players that want to get better should be putting themselves in pressure situations as much as possible.”
3. Skate as much as possible
There are a ton of different skills hockey players can focus on, like shot accuracy and puckhandling. However, Mike says that all of the skills are meaningless if you can’t get up and down the ice quickly and gracefully. That’s why he recommends that all young players take the opportunity to skate as much as possible.
“Everyone at the highest level can skate, move their feet and fly around the ice,” Mike exclaimed. “There is ample ice around players can use to skate on, from public rinks to backyard rinks. And like coaches say all the time: If you can’t skate, you can’t play.”
4. Choose your coaches wisely
A lot of the success a hockey player enjoys is dependent upon the quality of the coaching he receives. Since not every player is going to get along with every kind of coach, Mike insists that kids and their parents should do their homework before granting someone the authority over them as a coach.
“The coach is like a third parent out there for these kids,” Mike said. “They interact with the kids more than the parents a lot of the time, so you have to run some background checks to make sure you don’t end up with a loose cannon. Ask around and learn what the coach is like and how he reacts to different things. That way, you’ll feel more comfortable when you finally make a decision.”
5. Pay attention to what you eat
Over the years, far more attention has been paid to the nutritional component of athletics. While Mike isn’t a big fan of taking fancy supplements, he definitely recommends that all hockey players monitor their food intake if they want to perform at their athletic peak.
“When you’re an athlete, nutrition is a 24-hour-a-day thing,” Mike stated. “Players learn to took for any type of edge they can get, and what you eat definitely affects how you feel, especially if you go for a protein shake instead of a burger and fries. Kids may not see the immediate benefit from eating one meal instead of another, but it’s part of the complete picture of being an athlete.”
6. Make friends with the weight room
Lifting weights is one of those things that has become less of an option and more of a requirement for most athletes. While Mike admits there are dangers in forcing kids to lift weights before their bodies are ready for it, the benefits of weight training are too obvious for players to simply write it off.
“Strength helps you in every facet of the game, but lifting weight and getting stronger takes a long time,” Mike said. “The hardest thing about lifting weights is the results aren’t visible over the short term; there’s a delayed gratification. But once you have it, that power helps you with quickness and explosiveness, and it helps you ward off injuries, too.”
7. Learn to cut costs
Due to the cost of equipment, from pads and helmets to gloves and sticks, hockey is among the most expensive sports to participate in. Mike says there is no way to sugarcoat the high cost of playing hockey, but also contends that it can be overcome if people want success badly enough.
“There are organizations out there like Perani’s that allow you to apply for scholarships,” Mike said. “In addition, teams do carwashes, raffles, charity games, galas and other events where all the money goes to families that might be struggling with paying their hockey bills. You might need to do a little leg work, but money is out there to be had, and if you want to succeed badly enough, someone will help you make it work.”
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