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Looking to improve during the off-season? Three simple steps you can follow for maximum improvement

By Enio Sacilotto

As the current season is over, players and coaches are looking to next season, but what about the off-season?  What will the players and coaches do in the off-season to prepare for next season?

In this article, we will introduce you to a three-step formula that will help you have a productive off-season, systematically working on the areas that will help you succeed.  You will have two practical tools to help you analyze the past season.  Coaches and parents, please pass these tools on to any of your players.

Step one: Keep a growth mindset – The key to success for most high achievers is their growth mindset.  Someone with a growth mindset understands that they can learn anything they choose to learn.  They believe they can succeed, whether it is a sport or a math skill.  When they get frustrated, as almost anyone will when they learn new skills, they find a way to persevere and stick with it.   Athletes with a growth mindset like to challenge themselves and be challenged by teachers, coaches, teammates, and parents.  When they experience failure or a temporary setback, they understand that if they analyze the loss, they can learn from it and not repeat the same error.  They move on feeling good about themselves.  One of the most admirable things about someone with a growth mindset is that when their classmates, teammates and friends succeed, they are inspired.  There is no jealousy or envy; they are happy to see people around them succeed.  Finally, a person with a growth mindset understands that their hard work, effort, and attitude determine everything.

A growth mindset works on a continuum; sometimes, your mind will slip into a fixed mindset mode. This is okay and perfectly normal. The key is recognizing when your mind slips and returning to the growth mindset mode.

Maintain your growth mindset over the off-season, find out what you want to improve or learn, and spend your time productively working on getting better.

Step Two – What do you need to improve in the off-season?  –  There is a famous quote credited to Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.”  You don’t want to go into the off-season taking things by chance and not being specific on what you need to improve or what new skills you want to learn.  So, the first thing to do is to analyze the season you just finished playing.  That brings us to the first tool.  It is called the Post-season Review Worksheet – K.S.S.

The worksheet has three columns; you will analyze your season by asking yourself three questions: 1) KEEP – What did you do well that worked for you this past season?   You want to ensure you keep this up, as it will help you succeed.  2) STOP – What didn’t work for you?  Is this something you should stop doing, and why?  Sometimes, there are things in your game that didn’t work for you, but you may still want to keep them and work on fixing the issue.  3) START – What should you start doing that will positively affect your performance?   This could be something in your mental training. If you have never practised mindfulness or visualization, then you can add these mental skills to your game.

Once you understand the K.S.S. (Keep, Stop, and Start) system, you want to think about and analyze the different aspects of your game. So, in the tool, you want to go to each line and ask yourself exploratory questions—there are no right or wrong answers; it is totally up to you. Please do not rush this exercise; take your time and complete it over several days.

  • Game Performance—Think about all your games. For example, you could look at your pre-game preparation. Do you have a routine? Is it written down, and does it work? Were you prepared to give your best effort on the day of your games?
  • Practice and Training Sessions – What is your attitude like at practice? Do you give your best effort every day?  What are your practice habits?  Do you maintain a growth mindset?
  • Mental Skills—Often overlooked, how is your mental game? Do you practise mindfulness and visualization? How do you deal with mistakes? How high is your confidence level? Are you consistent?
  • Technical & Tactical Skills –Your fundamental hockey skills are your technical skills. What individual skills do you excel at? What skills do you want to improve? Would you like to learn new skills, like a specific one-on-one move or an aspect of your shot? Your tactical skills are related to games; an example is reading and reacting—being able to view the players on the ice and decide where to go or what to do with the puck.
  • Physical – Fitness, Nutrition and Sleep – What part of your fitness program do you need to focus on – an example is strength training; do you need to get stronger in the off-season? How is your nutrition?  Do you eat the suitable types of food to help you perform your best?  Do you keep away from junk food?  How are your sleeping habits?  Do you get 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night?
  • Academics – How are your school marks? Do you spend enough time studying?

Your education needs to be one of the most essential activities of your life.  If sports do not work out, a backup plan is crucial.  Your education is vital for handling unforeseen challenges and setbacks, so keeping your academic grades up is imperative. Pay attention to your education.  There is a correlation between an elite hockey player and a high academic achiever.  Here is a short video you need to watch:  BRIAN BURKE – The Importance of School


  • Do you manage your time effectively and balance your daily activities? Are you consistently punctual and well-organized? Do you procrastinate? Do you spend too much time on your electronic devices? Do you plan your days?  Do you spend time with your family and friends?

You can download the K.S.S. tool right here.

One of our students, Ben Gibson, did a great job completing his K.S.S. worksheet; you can download his example here.

Step Three – Set goals and write them down – Now that you have done a thorough analysis, it is time to create your off-season training plan.  Use the ideas in each section you completed in the Post-Season Review Worksheet to determine what goals you want to set for yourself.  When you are writing your goals, keep in mind the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. formula:

  1. – Specific – Be specific and straightforward when writing your goal. For example, if your goal is to improve your shot, stating that you want a good shot is too general. Saying, “I will improve the accuracy of my wrist shot – by shooting 50 pucks (at my target) 3 times per week for the next 12 weeks,” is straightforward and specific.
  2. – Measurable – How will you know if you have reached your goal? You need to figure out a way to measure your progress. It can be a simple rating scale from 1 to 5: 5 = Excellent, 4 = above Average, 3 = Average, 2 = below Average, and 1 = Very Poor.
  3. – Achievable – You don’t want to set the bar too low or too high when setting goals. You need to challenge yourself and know that you can achieve your goal.

Action-oriented with the right attitude—Achieving goals doesn’t just happen because you have thought about them and written them down. You need action steps. Every day, you must set process goals. Process goals are the small steps that you take every day. Reaching your goals takes persistent, hard, and intelligent work. To be consistent, you must have a growth mindset and a positive attitude.

  1. – Relevant – Your goal must be important to you. You cannot want to achieve your dream to please a parent, coach, or agent. It would be best if you took ownership of all your activities.
  2. – Time-Bound – You must set a time limit for your goal. We can consider creating an off-season improvement program as a short-term goal. Daily process goals are the small steps that will take you to the top of the stairwell. You will reach your goal if you spend time daily, making a daily plan.  I call this the 1% CHALLENGE – 1% of your day is 14 minutes and 24 seconds. Your challenge is to spend 1% of your day planning your daily process goals.
  3. – Enjoyable – You need to love your sport and have FUN participating.
  4. Re-evaluate—When you write your goals down on paper, take the time daily to review and evaluate your progress toward reaching them. You may have to adjust as you move forward.

When you are making your plan and setting your goals for the off-season, Mike Johnston, former Pittsburgh Penguins coach, currently the GM and Coach of the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL), recommends the following, “I believe in the spring /summer months hockey skills and on-ice work should be 20% of your time 80% of your time should be track work and weight workouts. Then it shifts percentage-wise as the summer goes along so that at the end of the summer, it’s 60% skills skating and 40% weights and track work.”

Here is a short video:  Laura Wilkinson – Olympic gold medalist, on why goal setting is Critical.

Our second tool is a goal-setting worksheet to create your off-season improvement plan (your goals); you can download it here.

If you need help with your mental game, you can contact me by email or phone, and I would be happy to coach you to be the best version of yourself!

Enio Sacilotto, a seasoned professional with 40 years of experience coaching professional hockey in Europe and the Victoria Royals (WHL), offers top-notch coaching services. He currently coaches at the Burnaby Winter Club Hockey Academy and was previously the Croatian National Men’s hockey team coach. To inquire about his services, contact Enio at or call 604 255 4747. Visit for more information.