Wayne Gretzky’s Masterclass on the Athlete’s Mindset.

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“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Wayne Douglas Gretzky ( born January 26, 1961) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player and former head coach. He played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for four teams from 1979 to 1999. Nicknamed “the Great One“, he has been called the greatest hockey player ever by many sportswriters, players, the NHL itself, and by The Hockey News, based on extensive surveys of hockey writers, ex-players, general managers, and coaches.

Gretzky is the leading goal scorer, assist producer, and point scorer in NHL history, and garnered more assists in his career than any other player who scored total points.

As long as you love what you’re doing, stepping into the spotlight is just another chance to make an impression: Balance confidence with humility, and work on getting the most from every opportunity.

Growing Up

Wayne got his first pair of skates in 1963, at the age of three; he spent much of the following decade skating on that thin sheet of ice, pretending it was Maple Leaf Gardens, the towering cathedral of professional hockey in nearby Toronto.

Wayne earned his MEET GRETZKY WAYNE long-standing nickname, The Great One while playing youth hockey as a 10-year-old, and he’s lived up to that heady moniker ever since.

As a kid watching hockey on TV, Wayne would produce a paper diagram of the rink, then use a pen to follow the puck’s movement during the game—without looking down. In creating these charts, he was forming the hallmarks of his transcendent playing style: acute awareness, peripheral vision, and an uncanny ability to anticipate plays before they unfolded. While other hockey stars played the game, Wayne somehow appeared to be creating the game, always one step ahead.

Mental Conditioning

Wayne rose to national recognition as a youngster; after seven dominant years in junior hockey, he turned pro, joining the World Hockey Association (WHA) for the 1978-79 season.

Suddenly, at the ripe age of 17, he was on the road, playing in cities thousands of miles from home, facing off against future Hall of Famers like Bobby Hull (the Winnipeg Jets), Dave Keon (the New England Whalers), and Mike Gartner (the Cincinnati Stingers). Wayne didn’t miss a beat. He scored 104 points, appeared in the All-Star Game, and was named Rookie of the Year

In 1979-80, Wayne earned the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player and, at 19, became the youngest to notch 50 goals in one season. It set the tone for the two decades that would follow: an era of dominance that put Wayne not only at the top of ice hockey but in the upper echelon of all professional athletes.

He was never the most intimidating player, at least in terms of physical stature. And yet, by the time he retired in 1999, Wayne had won the Hart Memorial on nine occasions and held 62 offensive records. He led the NHL in goals five times, en route to becoming the league’s all-time career leader. Today, Wayne remains the only player to score more than 200 points in a single season. He did it four times.

He carried the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup wins and earned the Conn Smythe trophy as postseason MVP twice. He was also professional ice hockey’s first true crossover star, hosting Saturday Night Live and lending his likeness to cartoons and video games. His work ethic and humility are the stuff of legend.

Consistency is the Key

Consistency Is Key Wayne is nothing if not a creature of habit—part of his championship mindset hinged on consistency in all things. “I really didn’t change my routine from the time I was a youngster to the day I retired,” he says. “Putting on the left skate first and then my left shin pad, then putting on my right skate and my right shin pad.” Another area of Wayne’s life that involved routine? His pregame meals. Wayne has said that he’d often crush four hot dogs with onions and mustard (washed down with a Diet Coke) before playing. Oh, to have the metabolism of a professional athlete.

1999: Wayne retires from professional hockey, and his No. 99 jersey is retired league-wide by the NHL. He’s inducted immediately into the Hockey Hall of Fame, forgoing the usual three-year waiting period.

Wayne finished his career as one of only eight players in NHL history to surpass 5,000 shots on goal.

On the NHL’s all time points leaderboard, Wayne has more assists than the next-closest scorer has goals and assists combined.

Winning Habits
By the time Wayne bowed out of pro hockey in 1999, he held more than 60 individual NHL records. Many of them were set years before his retirement, but he never rested on his laurels. It’s a lesson he learned from playing with the Edmonton Oilers during the early 1980s, a young team whose run-and-gun style and tireless pursuit of victory created a sense of urgency. “We never thought about being Hall of Fame hockey players,” Wayne says. “We looked at each other like, Gosh, if we don’t work hard today, we won’t be in the National Hockey League next year. ”

Identify your weaknesses, find creative ways to leverage your strengths, and exploit both in a way that’s mutually beneficial for yourself and others.

Want to make it to the top? Seek guidance (and listen)

It was Wayne’s father, Walter, a telephone technician, who first noted his son’s passion for hockey. The elder Gretzky, himself a former junior hockey player, made sure to foster Wayne’s enthusiasm, building a rink in the backyard. He taught Wayne the basics of the game, had him run unorthodox drills, and, crucially, passed on early insights to ensure long-term success.

Walter believed that all athletes—from the superstars to those who stopped playing after
grade school—could glean life lessons from sports: the value of teamwork, healthy competition, coping mechanisms for pressure.

Walter passed these lessons along to his children, including Wayne’s brothers (two of whom were also drafted into the NHL) and his younger sister (a track and field star).

Find your Idols and Inspiration

Learn the history of how hard they worked to get to where they got to. It just does not happen overnight, you do not become good just because you think you are good, you become good because you are committed to getting better each and every day.

“It’s important to find someone in your own field for you to emulate, to show you the right way to do things.”

“I do remember my dad at a young age saying, ‘Hmm, watch No. 9 play. He’s the best hockey player in the world,’ ” Wayne recalls. “And so when I started watching Gordie, that’s what I found about him that was so unique—he could do things on the ice that other players couldn’t.” At just 10 years old, Wayne got to meet his hockey idol at a charity event. Their bond was a fast and strong one. (Wayne still attributes much of his goal-scoring success to a tip Howe gave him that night, about how to shoot the puck on his backhand.)

Don’t underestimate the power of a mentor. The mentor-mentee dynamic can offer support, context, perspective, and real-time problem-solving that other relationships do not.

Recommended Reading List

The Game By Ken Dryden

Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches By Craig Custance

Hockey Tough: A Winning Mental Game By Dr. Saul L. Miller

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