Watching the men’s hockey tournament at the 2010 Olympics has been thrilling. I know it’s easy to say in hindsight that I had a good feeling about that team, but really, I did. I promise.   We are actually pretty fortunate in that we have been able to evaluate many of the players on Team USA at some point or another through our work with NHL teams or with the player directly when his agent or coach purchased our services.   Given our experience working with athletes at this level, we’ve done a lot of research into what it takes to achieve that kind of success. So, watching Team USA play in action was another opportunity to see these gifted players in action.

I think if there is one thing that can be taken away from the success of this team is that it simply wasn’t good luck or good genes. It was hard work by those players for a very long time. Their hard work started well before they were selected last year to be on the team.  I have a few thoughts about this and how it applies to competitive hockey players today.

In EXACT’s work with the National Hockey League player development staff, USA Hockey coaches, or various youth hockey association directors, we hear these two main points about player development all the time:

First, player development and hockey training is a long journey and requires a well-rounded approach to training starting early on. I don’t think many young athletes these days realize that success happens over the period of a decade, not the period of a few days, months, or even a few years. They often look for shortcuts or one simple solution—a magic pill, maybe?—that will make them better without the hard work. But every single one of those athletes on Team USA had a long history of a strong work ethic and well-rounded approach to skill development. They didn’t just start working hard in the last year or two. They didn’t begin preparing for the Olympics only a few weeks in advance. They were working hard back when they were youth hockey players. They were listening to their youth coaches, practicing what they learned, and applying it during games. They were expanding their repertoire of skills, trying new positions, and studying the game as a whole.

In EXACT’s analysis, successful players don’t rely on one magic type of shot, stick handling trick, or mental technique that made them extra tough during the tournament. Instead, it is their well-rounded set of skills honed over the course of development. In fact, at their earliest ages, they often play multiple sports other than hockey which help them refine their motor skills and overall sports skills.

Second, athletes are responsible for their own development. I know I just gave accolades to the youth coaching staff who work with players day-in and day-out on the ice, but at the end of the day, each player’s success is dependent on the player him or herself, not the coach.  The American Development Model’s premise that the athlete is the center of development is spot on.  Remember, Team USA didn’t become successful overnight just because a coach, friend, or cheerleader whispered into their ears, “Be tough! Be confident!”. No, they were ready for Olympic success because of the decade of hard work they had put into their own development before those Olympic games were even set to take place in Vancouver.

The reality for each of these players is that through the course of their development they’ve had numerous different coaches, teammates, and opponents. The athlete himself is the constant during his journey. Why does this matter? When EXACT Sports looks at the characteristics of successful athletes, we see that they generally display a high acceptance of responsibility. This is the ability for a player to accept responsibility for their own actions (or inactions), learn from them, and grow. No one single coach has all the answers for you, nor will he or she be responsible for your failings or mistakes. Your success will ultimately have to come from inside of you and you alone.