It has been quite a 2020 for Ryan Hamilton.
In January, the mental performance consultant was part of the staff that travelled to the Czech Republic and helped Canada’s National Junior Team to an 18th gold medal at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
And from July to October, he spent more than nine weeks in the NHL bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a 65-day stay that culminated in a Stanley Cup championship for the Lightning.
In between, the Plaster Rock, N.B., native – like the rest of the country – traversed the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, staying home and connecting virtually with players and teams.
HockeyCanada.ca sat down with Hamilton to talk about his recent experiences, dealing with the pandemic and the importance of mental health to finding success on and off the ice.
HC: How important is staying physically active and playing sports to mental health?
RH: It really is difficult to separate what is mental health and what is physical health – the two things are so closely entwined. Our bodies are meant to move, and sport provides an excellent opportunity to do just that, often with a group of people with similar motivations, experiences and goals. When it comes to exercise, especially when we are trying to establish exercise as a habit, consistency matters the most. It’s amazing what a 20-minute walk or 10 minutes of yoga can do for our overall well-being.
HC: What are the biggest challenges of navigating the new hockey environment?
RH: Tolerance for uncertainty. It’s easy to put your head down and work when you know when and where it is going to pay off. The current landscape is marred with uncertainty, but it is important to remember that the things that matter the most will always matter the most. You will never regret improving your fitness, developing your skills, addressing a weakness or investing in the game.
HC: Mentally, what was the most trying part of the NHL bubble experience?
RH: First, I was blessed to be asked to be a part of the NHL bubble with the Lightning. Sacrifice is always a part of pursuing your dreams. Certainly, it was difficult to be away from those people and places I love the most. We were all under a lot of pressure and it was harder to fill the tank of coping resources without our regular escapes and breaks. Not only were we in the bubble for 65 days, we were also working all those days, and it demanded a lot to be at our best.
HC: What is the key to staying mentally strong during a short-term competition?
RH: I think the key is to never get stuck in something that has already happened or has not happened yet. Each day is so critical during a short-term competition that it requires your full attention. There’s no time to dwell on past successes or failures, nor is there value in ruminating about something that might happen in the future. We must surrender the outcome and deliver in the moment. One day at a time.
HC: What is the key to balancing the highs and lows that come with sports?
RH: For me, the key is to have a set of values you can strive to meet, independent of the results. For instance, if I value work ethic, humility and teamwork (which I do), I can make it my goal to make sure I live these things out every day. The results come and go, but being the kind of person you want to be is always achievable.
HC: What is the most important lesson you have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?
RH: I’ve learned about resilience, the importance of connection and the value of gratitude. When we entered the NHL bubble, we talked about gratitude nearly every day. Humility has been a key part of the identity of many Hockey Canada championship teams. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what is wrong, different or substandard. But even in the chaos and uncertainty there is so much to be thankful for. The key is to search for and celebrate those gifts.
HC: What is the role of a mental performance consultant?
RH: For me it is twofold. First, it is my job to teach athletes the mental skills that will allow them to perform at the top of their game on the biggest stages on earth. This isn’t done through magic words; it’s done through connection, wisdom and hard work. Second, I am there to support a psychological environment (or culture) that is centred on achieving excellence. I do not like to separate my work from the work of others; rather, I prefer to have psychological considerations be a part of all we do together as a team.