What started as a make-up Spiritual Life obligation has now become an almost essential part of the Culver Academies’ hockey program.
With most of the hockey games falling on a Saturday-Sunday weekend series, the players must still honor their Spiritual Life commitment by attending a service on Monday after classes. But the goalies were already committed to a special practice, Sebastian Ragno, Culver’s goalie coach, said.
In order to meet that obligation, Rev. Dr. Sam Boys, the Director of Spiritual Life, now meets with them every Tuesday after classes. But after talking with the goalies and Ragno, Boys uses the sessions to help the players stay focused and calm during games.
For Boys, it is a way show the players how they can blend the mind and spirit to help the body perform at a higher level. By teaching them yoga techniques to slow their breathing, focus better, and stay relaxed during stressful parts of the game, Boys is helping them perform better.
Ragno said the sessions started when the goalies gathered with Boys early in the season. They started talking about the mental side of the game and breaking down what they were thinking during certain parts of each game over the weekend.
“It’s just expanded since then,” he explained. The relaxation techniques, finding key phrases to help them focus, and exercises to improve their flexibility have all become a part of the Tuesday sessions.
Boys told the goalies during a recent Tuesday meeting that much of what they already do can be considered a ritual. From their pre-game drills to taking their initial position in the crease to getting ready to resume play, each goalie has ritual that says “I am here now” or “this is my space,” Boys observed.
What they are doing is cultivating controlled attention, he said. “It is intentional. You are in control.”
It is that same intentionality they must bring to their breathing, he said. Controlling your breathing helps you “find your center.” Goalies spend most of the game “reacting to the play around them,” he said. That is why they should focus on what they can control. That is breathing and “getting back to center.”
One of the breathing meditations they do is called “sama vritti” or resonance breathing. It is a mind-spirit-body practice that provides an immediate shortcut to balancing the nervous system. It starts with an exhale. Boys said the normal breathing rate is about 15–18 breaths per minute. This practice slows the breath to 5–7 bpm which helps one to reset and help re-focus attention during those stretches when the puck is in the other end.
And the exercises have been making a difference for the goalies on and off the ice.
Keira Markell ’23 (Milford, Mich.), a goalie for the CGA team, said the sessions have definitely improved her focus.
“We can be bombarded with pucks flying at us from all angles,” she said, “then, in a second, have to be able to calm down and refocus on the game.”
By using the techniques Boys has provided, such as breathing, positive affirmations, and improving posture, Markell said she has “noticed a huge difference.”
And the skills don’t just apply to hockey, she explained. “I have used them to focus during a big test, to relax before a presentation, and even to fall asleep easier.”
“I’ve been focusing a lot more on my breathing during games and practices,” Cole Evans ’22 (Kirkland, Wash.), a goalie for the CMA Prep team, said. “I felt like I’ve had more energy and have been able to retain that energy more because I’m working on breathing the right way.”
CMA U16 goalie Gage Redman ’22 (Kalamazoo, Mich.) said he has been doing these meditations each morning before classes and before practice and games.
Meditation with the hockey goalies is just one of the many ways that the spirit part of Culver’s mission is woven into the fabric of everyday life, Boys said.