Over the off-season, the Kootenay Ice hockey operations staff has grown tremendously. According to president and general manager Matt Cockell, the moves are all to aid ‘the player experience.’
The addition of mental skills coach Doug Swanson is one that is intended to help the members of the Kootenay Ice both on and off the ice.
In the new role, Swanson plans to teach players strategies that will help both their performance and life in general.
“Hopefully we can create the program that helps us create what I call ‘the life skill base’ that allows the individual to have some resilience [and] manage the bumps in the road,” Swanson said. “I think that the process really is managing your day-to-day moments, and then looking at your practice preparation, your pre-game preparation, looking at your game management skills.
“I am an educator at heart and by profession, and I think that vigilance which I call evaluation [is key], so post-game evaluation will be a vital ingredient to development.”
While Swanson’s exact job was still being determined at the team’s planning meetings last week, he expects to be at training camp at the end of August and then have monthly engagement with players.
“We, the coaching staff and players, will work together throughout this season on setting a framework and a groundwork,” Swanson said. “I think we want to establish a culture and a climate that says we will support each other in terms of our dreams and aspirations.
“Hopefully, over time, we will create a process that allows us to become gradually more and more competent in terms of life skills that allow you to be successful as an individual, whatever you do in terms of your life.”
Based in Red Deer, Swanson has a long history with teaching mental skills and working with athletes. As a young man, he played hockey and eventually combined that passion with the master’s degree he earned in Psychology in 1984 from the University of Calgary.
“[I] did a lot of work on stress and burnout in my thesis, and then started working on the mental skills side with different teams, with Hockey Alberta [and] with different community programs,” Swanson explained. “It then branched out and I got to work with a wide variety of sports in terms of mental skills and preparation.”
Through working with Hockey Canada, Swanson met Cockell which led to his hiring by the Ice.
“I worked [at] goaltending camps doing the mental skills piece with Matt, so I think that’s part of it,” he said of getting the job. “I have also worked in the WHL with a couple [of] other teams, and I think that probably helped as a qualifier to be a member of this organization.”
While Swanson says that the prior knowledge that major junior hockey players have about the mental skills element of the game is varied, he believes that they all share the high motivation required to thrive.
“Working with highly motivated individuals, which typically is a WHL hockey player, is intriguing, and I can learn a lot from them,” he said. “Hopefully we can create partnerships that help us all grow and learn and carry on.
“[Some of the] young men have a wealth of personal support and have read many books, looked at a lot of video and are very skilled in what they’re trying to do,” he explained. “There are some [however] that are going to find, I believe, [what I teach to be] fairly new and unusual and kind of weird.”
For Swanson, it’s all about communicating to players how to “live moments”.
“I think life for any of us is, I call it ebbs and valleys, and I think that successful people tend to manage the highs and the lows better than the less successful people do,” he said. “I think the theme that I would have is “live your moments well,” so the future can take care of itself.
“I like the Buddhism [approach] — here, now, this moment — are you present, are you engaged, are you using the opportunity to actually grow while you’re there?”
On a personal level, the chance to join the Kootenay Ice staff is exciting to Swanson for many reasons.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with Matt during the few occasions we’ve been able to work together [and] I’ve worked with [goalie coach] Denis Sproxton before, so that’s a nice reunion,” he said. “I think it’s incredible that I can work with very strong, highly-regarded professionals.
“I believe I have a lot to offer the organization [but also that] I have a lot to learn from the quality people [here].”