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Move up a level

03/19/2019, 1:15pm CDT
By Kim McCullough, M.Sc, YCS

What brought you success here won’t guarantee you success there.

Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill

Even though spring is right around the corner, many of us have already started to think about next season.

So I wanted to share a little bit of advice for those of you who are moving up a level next season. Whether you are making the jump from A to AA, B to C, Bantam to high school, high school to junior, or junior hockey to college hockey, the same advice applies: What brought you success here won’t guarantee you success there.

What you did to have success at your current level, and to get noticed by coaches and scouts, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have success at the next level. The truth is that to have what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done. You’re going to be “new” to that next level. And you’ll learn very quickly that the level of skill, commitment, intensity and perseverance that you’ll need to be a “go-to” player is likely higher than what you’re currently delivering.

I’ll give you an example. I only ever played defense in high school and was recruited as a D by colleges. I wasn’t exactly a “blue chip” prospect. I was very strong academically (that’s a nice way of saying that I was a bit of a nerd) and a very committed and intense player who never gave less than 100 percent in anything on or off the ice.  I’m sure that coaches and scouts gravitated towards me as a player because of my potential. Potential is a dangerous word, however – it is only valuable if you actualize it.  I knew that I wasn’t guaranteed ice time at the next level. All I knew is that I had my foot in the door. I had a coach who believed enough in me to give me a shot. But it was my job to actualize the opportunity and make the most of it.  

In the six months leading up to my freshman year at college, I did everything I could to make sure I was ready academically and athletically. As I mentioned above, I was a very strong student, so I made sure to stay focused on my studies all the way until graduation day – when I could have easily slacked off given that I’d already been accepted into an Ivy League school. I was also a total gym rat who worked out every single day. Even though I was very fit by high school standards, I knew that wouldn’t be enough to make the grade at the college level. So I kicked it up a notch throughout the spring and summer, and was in great shape by the time I stepped onto campus for my first day at college.

I truly believe that my off-ice fitness and my ability in the classroom were the two biggest reasons I was able to go from the fourth line to the second line in my first four months at college.

Now you may be thinking, didn’t you say you were a defenseman? I was. For about one week at college. For the final two years of my high school hockey career, I was given the “green light” to join the rush (or lead the rush) from my D position and led my team in scoring. So when I got onto campus at the college level, I did what I had done at the high school level to succeed – I rushed the puck and looked to be a contributor offensively. And after only three scrimmages, the coaches called me into their office and told me that I was going to be a forward. I had never played forward in my entire life.  

So there I was, playing college hockey, adapting to a brand new environment, trying to do my best in the classroom, in the weight room and on the ice, and I got hit with that bombshell. Here’s the secret of how I was able to go from a fourth liner who was lost on the forecheck to a second liner who got PK and PP time in just four months: I was the most prepared for the opportunity.

I know that doesn’t sound glamorous or exciting, but let me explain. When my teammates were struggling with the workload expected from them at an Ivy League school and worried about failing tests and classes, I was doing very well in the classroom, which allowed me to truly focus on the task at hand when we were on the ice. I wasn’t stressed out about bad grades and I wasn’t exhausted from pulling all-nighters. I had done the work academically to get into the school, and I upped my game once I got on campus to make sure that my academics didn’t interfere with my athletics.

I was also in excellent physical shape after spending six months training at an elite level to make sure that I would be in a position to thrive once I got to campus. While some of my teammates were suffering from injuries or ridiculous amounts of soreness from the intensity and frequency of workouts, I was fine.  Don’t get me wrong, it was very hard physically. But I had done the work and it meant that while my teammates were struggling to get through practice because their entire body was exhausted and sore, I could still give my best effort.  

To be honest, I wasn’t even close to the most skilled player in my freshman year. In fact, I was definitely in the bottom third of skill. But I was so well-prepared for the opportunity to prove that I not only belonged, but could be an impact player, that I was able to rise through the ranks very quickly playing a position that was completely new to me.

I NEVER assumed that what brought me success at the previous level would guarantee me anything at the next level.  I knew that if I wanted something I’d never had (ice time at the college level), I would have to be willing to do something I’d never done (push myself to new levels academically and athletically). I know it’s not that exciting, but it’s the truth. And it worked. So as you move up to newer and higher levels, make sure you are ready for the challenges that will come up. Never assume that you can just coast based on your past accomplishments. There is always another level of commitment and intensity that you can rise up to.


For more articles, videos, interviews and advice on how to take your game to the next level at Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain at Dartmouth and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is the Director & Founder of Total Female Hockey and Head Coach of the Toronto-Leaside Junior Wildcats in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Kim McCullough