If you ask Nick Fohr, USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-17 Team head coach, about how his players prepare for a game, he starts two days before puck drop.
“We talk about a lot of different things, and it really starts prior to game day,” said Fohr, who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach with the NTDP this summer. “We’re talking 48 hours out. We really start hitting them on the whole hydration and food and rest piece and how important those things really are to that game on Friday. So by Wednesday, if you got a game Friday, we should really be hammered in and focused on our sleep. It's going to be really important that we’re getting good sleep and then making sure we're properly hydrated and getting really good quality calories in our bodies.
“It starts that far out.”
Fohr, who has been coaching with the NTDP since 2011 after seven seasons with his alma mater at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, is in charge of helping a fresh batch of 16U players adjust to the demands of junior hockey. The things he preaches to his players, however, can be applied to players competing at any level of hockey.
“We know things are going to change and be different depending on where you are,” Fohr said. “Whether you're home, whether you're on the road, whether you're playing a tournament where there's two games in a day or whether you just have the one game on the weekend – it really changes and things need to adapt a little bit differently based on all those scenarios. But when you're playing multiple games, it's even more important that you're taking care of the nutrition and hydration pieces, and the rest piece.”
To help players deal with the various scenarios and constant schedule changes, Fohr emphasizes figuring out a routine that works specifically for you. The NTDP coaching staff pushes their players to think about what they need, and what they don’t, to get their minds and bodies ready for a game.
“I'm big on letting them form their own routine because what works for one may not work for the next,” said Fohr, a former USHL and NCAA forward. “I think it's important to do what makes you and your body feel the best and put you in the situation to feel the best. Do you wear a suit and tie to the rink or do you come in shorts and a T-shirt? There's a lot of people out there that believe that if you look good, you feel good, and that falls in line with the hydration and the food piece. If you do all those things, it adds up to something in the end.”
Here are some specifics that Fohr wants his players including in their game-day routine:
“One of the things that I've been on with our guys is making sure we get up in the morning. Maybe we have a 7 p.m. game – we’re not sleeping until 10 or 11 in the morning. Let's get up. Let's get our bodies moving by 8, 9 a.m. Let's be up, let's be moving.”
It can be as simple as going for a walk all the way up to going through the pre-game exercises with the team later that day.
“Get your body moving, wake it up, let it get alive,” Fohr said.
“We’re going to have a good breakfast. We're going to do some type of light lunch or snacks. Fruit and veggies, stuff like that at noon and not a full meal. It’s more of a super late lunch or snack to get us to our pre-game meal, which is going to be, for us, four hours out. If we have a 7 p.m. game, we eat at 3.”
Don’t get caught up in eating the same meal before every game, it’s one of the superstitious things that Fohr tries to avoid.
“Change it. It doesn't always have to be the same. There are so many people, they get in the superstitious mode, which is crazy in my opinion.”
Fohr said that if you asked Brian Galivan, the NTDP’s director of sports science, the preferred pregame meal would be white rice, grilled vegetables and a lean protein. Fohr won’t push you to be that precise for every game, however.
“You need veggies. That's the important piece. That's what our guys aren't very good at out here. I go around to the tables and so many times plates are just brown. It's pasta and it's chicken and there's just no color to it. You need the vegetables, you need the minerals, and the vitamins that are in vegetables, to help your body perform fast.
“You have to have color on your plate.”
“It's two hours ahead of time and we're going to have meetings quickly. We're going to have an-off ice warm up. We're going to have an on-ice warm-up. We'll have little snacks that are easy to digest quickly. We're on them constantly about hydration.
“Find a routine that works for you, and you might change things around a little bit to figure out what is best for you, and that's part of that process of learning what works best for your body.”
“We recommend our guys put their phones away at 9 p.m. and get 8-10 hours of sleep,” Fohr said. “It's important to get to bed early and stay away from the screens – they hurt your sleep. I know my guys, they're not all angels, there are plenty of them that have their phone till 11 o'clock at night, but what I refer to them and what I tell them a lot of times is if you want to be elite you have to do the little things.
“It seems silly. Why does it matter if I put my phone away or not? But it makes a difference on your sleep. It affects how you go to bed and it affects your brain. There's been a million studies done and they all say shut the screens off, get away from a screen, read a book, do something like that before you go to bed instead of laying in bed watching TV and fall asleep with the TV on.
“We talk to our guys a lot. We treat them very well. They get a lot of really cool things and they get a lot of cool experiences. But with that comes sacrifice and we ask people to do that here because it's what's best for them.
“They're doing all these things on a daily basis to be to be the best.”