(Hockey Canada Images)
Saulnier on mindset, nutrition and leadership
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 2 of our interview with Olympic hockey hopeful Jillian Saulnier. For an inside look at Saulnier's training habits, check out Part 1 here.
— By Rachel Sovka
If you were aiming for the Olympics this February, you would make sure you were doing everything possible to create a competitive advantage.
And that’s exactly what hockey player Jillian Saulnier is doing this off-season.
Beyond physical training, it’s mental health and nutrition that can be the difference between standing on the podium and wishing you were there.
In order to get there, Saulnier’s hockey team has a wide range of support from nutritionists to mental strength trainers.
Hockey as a beautiful escape
For Saulnier, what the sport has offered her mentally has immeasurably changed the course of her life.
“When I was younger I really struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Saulnier says. “I would torture myself inside my head. But on Monday nights… it was a different story.”
On Monday nights, Saulnier played hockey, and hockey provided a beautiful escape.
“It really has helped me get through hardship,” she says. “But it also helped me play to my strengths in life. Hockey gave me an avenue to channel my OCD in a healthy way; if only for an hour, I was obsessed with getting the puck in the net, that’s all I was doing; a break from torturing myself, and a joy to play.”
When Saulnier had to decide between hockey and soccer in her youth, she followed her passion and hasn’t put down her stick since.
The value of positive self-talk
Saulnier says the psychological toughness she has developed, thanks partly to Hockey Canada’s mental strength-training resources, is invaluable.
“The best thing I learned from mental strength training is positive self-talk,” she says. “Humans are programmed to downplay what we’re doing, but if you give yourself the confidence, you really succeed. Imagine how being less critical to begin with could change the way athletes perform.”
What true leadership looks like
Harnessing mental strength has also been paramount in Saulnier’s leadership development. As a team captain, she’s probably more aware of it than most.
“I’ve been very fortunate to represent Canada for the last number of years from the U18 to the senior level, and throughout that time have had very different roles with the groups from being a rookie on a team to holding more of a leadership role,” she says.
“During my time with the senior national team I have been so lucky to play with and watch some of the best leaders to come through the women’s game.”
It’s through that experience that she’s taken mental note of what true leadership looks like.
“I think a good leader is someone who has the ability to motivate others around them through their actions alone, is incredibly respected by her teammates and coaching staff, and is also willing to do anything for the team at any moment.”
Saulnier says Marie-Philip Poulin is one of the best leaders she has ever been around. The two have played together, and against each other.
“She embodies every one of those qualities while being one of the most humble athletes I’ve ever met. To me that is the epitome of what a leader can be.”
Getting ready for go time
But to be a good leader, something even more fundamental has to be sorted first. Both Saulnier’s physical and mental performance are affected by nutrition. So she’s had to be mindful of dietitian recommended meals during training and during the off-season.
“I think what each of us eat is very dependent on individual preference,” Saulnier says “For me, I like to get a good, heavier meal in about three-four hours before a game and that usually consists of a pasta or rice of some sort, protein and veggies.
“As we get closer to a game, I aim to get a few snacks in slowly but not eat too much so I don’t get a stomach ache when it’s go time.”
In many ways it’s always go time for Saulnier, even in the off-season. She’s currently splitting her time between Calgary, where the women have played some exhibition games against the United States and against boys teams, and Halifax, where Saulnier can be found in the gym working hard or out on the coast surfing.
For now, Saulnier is on the short list for the Olympic team centralized in Calgary. By Christmas, we’ll have a better idea of when Canada’s final roster will be announced.