International Ice Hockey Federation

USA seeks mental strengths

USA seeks mental strengths

Veteran Chu hails attention to detail

Published 09.02.2014 16:42 GMT+4 | Author Andy Potts
USA seeks mental strengths
Julie Chu captained Team USA to the gold medals at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship in Ottawa. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
For the Vancouver silver medallists, planning with pebbles could be key to Olympic success beside the beaches of Sochi.

For Julie Chu, a three-time Olympian with team USA, success in Sochi starts with a pebble.

It’s not one found on the Black Sea beaches of Southern Russia, but one from within the American locker room, where a new-found focus on mental preparation is playing a big part in upping the game for the World Champion.

The humble pebble is part of a deceptively simple exercise introduced to the team by mental skills coach Colleen Hacker, who previously worked with the USA’s powerful women’s soccer team. Each member of the roster takes a pebble and focuses on it in minute detail, reaching a point where she can easily distinguish ‘her’ pebble from any other. Ultimately this attention to detail is put to the test in a darkened room, where each player has to find her pebble. “Admittedly, sometimes we get down to the last two and it’s like ‘Guys, just get it right now!’,” smiled Chu, but there’s a serious point to it all.

“It’s about focussing on details, so that in a game situation when there’s so much that can distract us, we know exactly what we need to do,” she added. “For us it’s a big thing.”

That attention to detail certainly paid off for Team USA in its opening game against Finland. Amid the excitement and adrenaline of the first action of the Olympics it took just 50 seconds for Hilary Knight to capitalize on a Finnish error and open the scoring.

It set up a great start to the competition, with the Americans going on to win 3-1 against a team which had hoped to lead the European challenge against its Trans-Atlantic rivals.

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Perhaps surprisingly, though, after years of North American dominance of the women’s game, Chu welcomes the prospect of greater competition at international level – especially in this Olympics.

“A lot of nations are coming and upping their game,” she said. “We’ve had three different bronze medallists at the last three World Championship which is testament to that. Other nations are doing a good job and we have that progress.

“Everybody wants the best women’s hockey that we can possibly have – of course it’s nice to win medals, but we also want the best product we can deliver. We’re expecting the closest Olympic tournament ever this time, and I hope we’ll see that it’s even closer in four years’ time and maybe in another four it could really be anybody’s game.

“It might sound weird, but that’s what we want to see – but starting with us winning here!”

Chu herself has played a part in helping to promote the sport outside North America – and at this Games she’s looking forward to seeing some of the results of that.

“A few years ago we did a camp in Slovakia and we still talk about what an amazing experience that was,” she recalled. “We made friends with a lot of girls who are now part of the Japanese team [which qualified for the 2014 Olympics] and even back then you could see that they would achieve a lot if they could keep up that enthusiasm.”

As the opening games of the fifth women’s Olympic hockey tournament get underway, it’s time to see what that enthusiasm can help the tournament’s underdogs achieve.


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