Why ‘Deep Work’ is a Game-Changer

First be real with yourself and then make improvements.

What is deep work? 

Deep work, or deliberate practice, is essentially time spent doing focused practice that is geared towards skill acquisition and mastery.  It is long uninterrupted periods of dedicated work, that usually isn’t very sexy.  This work is critical to the development of the skills necessary to play at high levels. Regular practice of deep work is commonplace in successful people in all walks of life – whether it’s a famous artist, a successful entrepreneur, or an NHL all star – anyone that is exceptional at their craft.  Developing the ability to consistently spend long periods of time in deep work is a main factor that will separate you from the competition.  Talent will only get you so far.  Consistent execution and development of the most impactful skills is what will take you to the next level.

Most people avoid deep work like the plague.  Literally everything in our culture is trying to grab our attention and captivate us, persuading us to buy this or that product, with the promise of happiness or fulfillment.  Social media sites and apps encourage us to allow push notifications and alerts making us continuously distracted with updates, messages, ads, and other people’s agendas.  In addition, we are training our brains for immediate gratification through one click buying or mindless scrolling on social media.  Immediate gratification is essentially the opposite of deep work. Instant gratification involves something pleasurable in the here and now, while typically having detrimental effects in the long term.  Deep work involves doing hard things for long periods of time for no reward for potentially years before reaping the rewards.  This, ladies and gentleman, is one of the reasons why most people don’t make it to the NHL.  The good news is that just like a muscle, your mind CAN be trained and is extremely pliable.  You don’t need to become a monk and delete all your social media apps and train for 9 hours a day, but you do need to get control of your mind.  Essentially you need to use those apps and tools consciously, rather than them using you.

So what am I supposed to focus on during these blocks of uninterrupted time?

There is a famous saying “know thyself” in philosophy, and the same applies here as an athlete.  You have to take an inventory of the kind of player you are – what your strengths and weaknesses are, feedback you’ve gotten from coaches, and what honestly needs to improve for you to realistically compete at the next level.  Maybe it’s stickhandling, or physical stamina or strength, or it could be your mindset.  Maybe it’s reviewing game tape to analyze your play.  Whatever these things are, you have to be real with yourself, identify them, and decide to make improvements.  The type of deep work you’ll need to do all depends on the types of skills that need improvement – you may need to spend more time in the gym, or you may need to educate yourself on how to eat healthier so you have more energy.  You might need to read a book on how to develop a better mindset.  You may need to reach out to other players or coaches for advice if you’re unsure of how to progress.

How to distraction-proof yourself:

Distraction is the enemy of deep work, so you’ll need to bolster some defenses against the things that will lead you off track.  Start by turning off all non-essential alerts and badges on your phone. When you’re practicing or engaging in these deep work sessions, turn your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb mode.  When your mind knows it can be disturbed at any moment, it’s harder to get into a flow state leaving your precious time practicing far less effective.  Set a timer – sometimes if something is hard for you to do like reading a book on mindset for instance, setting a timer lets your brain know that this will come to an end, and that it’ll be over as soon as the timer goes off.


Schedule these chunks of time into your calendar and stick to them.  Start gradually and build from there as your mental fortitude improves.  Deep work time can vary – you may want to start with 15-30 minutes to start (depending on what type of activity you’re doing) and eventually get upwards of several hours in a day.  Tracking deep work is a trick that some people use – essentially you have a sheet of paper with the days of the week across the top, and a tally underneath each day for every hour of deep work you did.  Total the number of tallies for the week, and compare this to future weeks and try to beat your total time.

Like I said, your brain is like a muscle and needs to be consistently trained if you are serious about competing at the next level.  If you find yourself getting distracted easily, wanting to look at your phone, or doing anything else other than the work at hand, don’t worry.  This is completely normal.  Start slow, but stay consistent.  Just like a muscle, you don’t start by bench pressing 400 pounds your first time in the gym.  Start with where you’re at, and challenge yourself just past your comfort zone. Over time, your focus muscle will grow and will translate to faster skill acquisition, and better performance on the ice.


Additional resources:

Deep Work by Cal Newport

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Mind Gym by Gary Mack