Is it a gold medal? A state championship? A place on the varsity roster?

The Team USA women prepared for the gold medal showdown with Canada – just as the Canadian women did – by planning a program that fit their goals, and following through every day for nearly four years. I wish I could adequately describe the passion that went into each workout. I cannot do it justice, but I’ll add that, along with excruciating effort, there was also a palpable joy – a realization that the long-term project was essential, and it was paying dividends.

That’s what every Olympian did – every one you saw on TV – those who won medals, and those who did not. Imagine the practice hours it takes to skate, jump and dance like world-class figure skaters, to shoot a rifle with flawless precision in the middle of an exhausting cross-country race, to fall many times and get back up to perfect the aerial acrobatics of the half pipe daredevils, to compete on the edge between success and failure like ski jumpers, downhill skiers, sled-racers or speed skaters.

There is never a doubt in the minds of those athletes that their lifestyle will be dominated by practice and physical training, or … forget about lofty dreams.

What does it take for a hockey player to move up to the next level? Four years ago, the U.S. women were not satisfied with silver medals in the Olympics and gold medals in the World Championships. So, even though many observers thought they were the fastest in the world, they decided they’d be faster in 2018, they’d execute all skills at that elevated speed, shoot harder and more accurately, stickhandle, pass and receive better – and make creative decisions as a team that would lead to greater synergy. I’m 100-percent sure the Canadian women had similar goals and work ethic.

Stickhandling, shooting, passing, receiving. Skating skills and speed. Quicker decisions. Grit. It’s not difficult to list the targets for any hockey player with the desire to improve. It’s the plan and follow-through – day after day – that determine success.

Understand, however, your competitors are not sleeping. In the case of the U.S. and Canadian teams, the championship game was fast and fierce, and the gold medal was not determined after three periods and 20 minutes of overtime. It took a long, intense shootout.

This same elevation of skills and speed is happening throughout the world in men’s and women’s hockey. For example, Let’s Play Hockey often lists the college and pro players from Minnesota, and historically these have been large numbers. However, elite competition has expanded in recent years to include new hotbeds like California, Texas, St. Louis and many other places. Making it to college and pro hockey just got a lot more competitive.

You must first have a dream, then a plan – and there is no question some plans fit your hockey dreams better than others. Herb Brooks would advise, “Train smart, not just hard.” Ultimately it’s your follow-through – your day-to-day effort over many months – that determines the reward. Train with passion, because self-improvement is one of the great projects of a lifetime – far greater than any medal.


Photo: Susan McPherson