Rolling around in the sand may not seem like preparation for a hockey season, but that is part of the greater goal for the Trail Smoke Eaters this week.
Drill Sergeant and owner of Dynamic Shift Consulting, Sean Bacon, has been busy running the new Smoke Eaters roster into the ground with two days of gruelling exercise and drills.
Bacon works with sports teams all over the province, teaching metal endurance and pushing limits, but this job holds special importance and a personal connection.
“I used to live here,” he said between drills Monday. “I am a local boy. Most of my career has taken me all over the world, but to come back here (is great). I don’t have a vested interest in too many teams that I train, but this one is my mom’s favourite team.”
Over two days, the former military police officer and teacher has had the Smoke Eaters running, jumping, swimming and getting dirty, all to teach the players that they can push past the mental limits they have set for themselves. Pushing them physically is just a means to push them mentally.
“It is giving them intentional adversity, giving them something to struggle through and giving them constructive conflict,” he said.
“The physical side is only a vehicle for the mental side. When you are dealing with athletes, you have to raise the bar and take them out of their comfort zone.”
While enduring two days of military style drills may not seem suited for a hockey team, Bacon says it fits perfectly.
“You have to admit, the program seems a bit daunting,” he said. “But, once the players start to see that it is transferable onto the ice, that third period grit comes out. You can be uncomfortable and tired, but still want to win.”
One of the many drills the boys on the team went through is called Operation Get Sandy where players turn into “sugar cookies” by covering themselves in as much sand as possible.
“The goal is to be comfortable by being uncomfortable,” said Bacon.
“They run into the water, fully submerge themselves, come out of the water, run onto the beach and roll around in the sand. Then they are helping their buddies get more sandy. What people don’t realize is that the physical aspect of getting in the water, going under, and then getting dirty over and over again, wears your mind down. It’s awful, I am not going to lie. I’ve done it.”
The idea behind the drill is to teach the players that certain attitudes can hold you back.
“If you embrace it, you take ownership of it and all of a sudden, your entire attitude changes,” said Bacon. “It sucks, but you have to embrace the suck. It forces you to understand that you can push beyond certain limitations.”
The program also teaches teamwork between players and one way Bacon fosters that concept is to have the team pull a fire truck together.
“We are going to be doing that at the end of the day (today),” he said. “After a full day (of drills), it is the dessert. It is to show that together, they can achieve the seemingly impossible.”
Smoke Eaters head coach Nick Deschenes has worked with Bacon before in Grand Forks and says that he was impressed with the results.
“I was put in touch with (Bacon) a year ago in Grand Forks,” he said. “I really enjoyed the experience and I decided to continue. It teaches leadership, accountability and teamwork.”
Deschenes says turning to a former military-man seemed logical because Bacon had made a career of pushing mental limits.
“The military has it down to a science,” he said. “For the players, this experience is so valuable and unique. It is also great for the team to hear from a different voice.”
As head coach, Deschenes doesn’t just sit on the bench and watch, he has to continue the work started during the program.
“My hard work is going to be having to try and maintain what they are learning and accomplishing over the couple of days and taking it into the season,” he said.
Bacon says that although the main focus of the program is getting the players to push their mental limits, it is also to show the community of Trail how hard the team is working to pull out a winning season on the ice.
“You want the team to go through the crucible and come out the other side stronger and we want the community to rally behind them,” he said. “If the community sees what they are going through and what they are willing to go through, I hope that it inspires the community. Also, by the community supporting the team, they will feed the team’s fire.”
Finally, Bacon wants to teach the Smoke Eater’s roster that when they wear the jersey, they are held accountable.
“It is about serving something bigger than yourself,” he said. “You are playing for something much bigger.
“When you are wearing orange and black, you are representing Trail, B.C. I believe in this group and I believe the town needs this.”