skip navigation

Is rest realistic for aspiring hockey players?

12/21/2017, 10:45am CST
By Kim McCullough, M.Sc, YCS

Proper rest and recovery is one of the most critical aspects of elite performance.

Hockey players, parents and coaches could all use more rest, especially as the hockey season kicks into high gear.  Proper rest and recovery is one of the most critical aspects of elite performance that we often forget about, and it is the one area, that when neglected, leads to the most injuries and burnout.  

I remember when I was in high school, I’d have basketball practice before school, go to class all day (including gym class), head off to do an off-ice training workout after school and then head to hockey practice at night. That is a pretty regular day for an elite female athlete who not only plays hockey at a high level, but also competes in a number of different sports. Add to the mix the fact that I didn’t exactly have the best nutrition strategies (most of my lunches consisted of fast food or something from out of a package) and would average 6-7 hours of sleep per night, and it was no wonder that I always seemed to be dragging by the time December rolled around.   

In addition to wanting to be an elite student-athlete and achieve at a high level on the ice and in the classroom, I also wanted to have some semblance of a normal high school social life. Sure, I knew that it would have been better for me to go home after practice on a Saturday night, eat a healthy meal and then go to bed early to get ready for my game the next day. But instead, I would head out with my friends to a movie or party and not get home until very late. And I would always be frustrated the next day when I wasn’t able to perform as well as I wanted!  As with many of the young female athletes I work with now, I wanted it all – to excel on the ice, in the classroom, on the soccer field, on the basketball court, and see my friends and family regularly. When I think about how much I used to cram into one day back in high school, it’s no wonder that I was constantly tired, injured and frustrated. 

While I am certainly not advocating that young athletes give up their social time to go to bed early every night, there are some simple choices that they should make to ensure that they perform their best on a consistent basis. 

1. Drink more water: Nearly all young athletes are dehydrated. Once you are thirsty, you are dehydrated. And once you are dehydrated, your performance goes down 10-15 percent. The first thing to go when you are dehydrated is your brain, which doesn’t bode well for your performance on the ice or in the classroom. Even drinking just one more glass of water a day will help boost performance, although many athletes would benefit greatly from an extra 3 or 4 glasses of water per day.  

2. Take naps: I know many of my young athletes take naps, but most of them are of the two or three-hour variety.  When it comes to using naps to recover, shorter is better. Anything longer than 20-30 minutes will actually make you more tired and less alert.  

3. Stretch more: Almost all of the athletes I work with don’t stretch enough. I am not saying they need to do hour-long yoga routines every night. Just 10 minutes of stretching each night will have a dramatic effect on the way players feel and perform. 

4. Think of how you can improve without being physically active: Goal-setting and using visualization are two ways that young athletes can dramatically improve their performance without exerting any physical energy. Taking 5-10 minutes each day to think about how to stay on track towards your ultimate goals, or to visualize your success, will make you a better athlete without making you tired.

5. Plan your day: It may sound a little strange to think about planning your rest time, but with everything young athletes have to do every day, it has become a necessity. Once I discovered this secret in high school, I was instantly more productive, more energetic and had more time on my hands. Spend a few minutes each night looking at everything you need to get done the next day and figure out when you can squeeze in some time for rest and recovery (stretching, goal setting, etc).  

While it may be unrealistic to expect young athletes to get 10 hours of sleep every night, to have ideal nutrition and hydration habits and to be at 100 percent each and every time they hit the ice, the suggestions above will help players to fit proper rest and recovery into their hectic schedules and help them to feel and perform their best on and off the ice. 


To learn more about how to use what you do off the ice to take your game to the next level on the ice, visit Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is currently the Director and Founder of Total Female Hockey as well as the head coach of the Toronto-Leaside Jr Wildcats in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League.  

Top Stories

Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Kim McCullough