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Dan Blackburn of National Training Centres: “Best ways to practice good quality sleep is develop a sleeping routine”

Best ways to practice good quality sleep is develop a sleeping routine. Establish a desired bedtime in advance that includes a ritual to prepare for bedtime, and go to bed when you said you would. You may need to ask family/housemates for their support on this one and only you can make this happen. As a […]

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Best ways to practice good quality sleep is develop a sleeping routine. Establish a desired bedtime in advance that includes a ritual to prepare for bedtime, and go to bed when you said you would. You may need to ask family/housemates for their support on this one and only you can make this happen.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Blackburn.

Dan Blackburn is president of National Training Centres (NTC) in Toronto, Canada, a comprehensive training centre for hockey playing athletes. He helps them develop mind, body, spirit and emotional strength using his foundational principles — Pillars of Greatness. Dan spent 10 years playing hockey, body building and coaching before opening his own fitness training centre in 1998. He has since trained and coached thousands including NHLers P.K. Subban (New Jersey Devils), David Bolland (Stanley Cup winner with Chicago Blackhawks) & Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars).


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Montreal Quebec Canada with two loving parents and an older brother. My parents split up when I was 3 years old. For the better part of my childhood my father struggled with mental health and alcoholism. The alcoholism affected the entire family. I grew up lacking confidence and wondering where I fit in. My mom did an amazing job of building a loving and safe environment for me and my brother. I am grateful for her but I suffered silently for years. I loved sports and all thing active. I was always in full expression of myself. When Dan was in the room everyone knew. However underneath my worries and low self-confidence, was a young man itching to get out. Little did I realize what was ahead for me in my full expression.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My grade 9 and grade 11 history teacher, Mr. Mardiner and gym teacher Mr. Mitchell (father of NHLer Torrey Mitchell) were my inspirations when I was young. Although they didn’t direct me to my business or career, they saw me for me and believed in me. Lacking my dad’s attention these two men saw me as a young boy, pointing out what I did well, and telling me that I was valuable and worthy. Although I was NOT an ‘A’ student nor the All-Star Athlete, these teachers saw something in me greater than academics or athletics. They saw a young man with potential.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Both of these teachers provided encouragement. I even shared in depth with Mr Mardinger how he was such an inspiration.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Most interesting mistake? WOW! There have been so many. Lol. Probably the start of NTCHockey. I had lost my job working in the transportation industry. Within a few weeks I had secured another job for another company in the same industry. Within 6 weeks of that position, the company lost a major client, resulting in the abolishment of my position. Once again I was out of work. I lived with a friend at the time. When I arrived home that day I met him at the door and he laughed when I told him I was once again without a job. Secretly I was afraid. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “there has to be something else for me.” I shifted my efforts from ‘finding another job’ to following my dreams. A short time later, I started NTCHockey.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

There are a number of powerful lessons. In the Pillars of Greatness program I created, I teach athletes around the world to unlock their greatness. I share the importance of patience. You see, impatience leads to missed steps. We are in a fast paced world and we want answers NOW! Sometimes NOW isn’t fast enough. Let me be clear, ‘patience is not waiting’ Patience is what you do when you are waiting. Most people judge their growth by their ability to see, reach and achieve the dream. Yet those 3 aspects are merely the icing on your cake of your efforts. There is so much you can do each minute of your day. Developing the right beliefs is sustainability. Sustainability is having faith that the work you are doing IS getting you somewhere. Despite you not seeing the proof of growth happening. You are building something that in most cases will take time (probably more time that you want anyway). If you question if your work is worthwhile (and you will), you must lock into your faith and trust. Trust your efforts are building a sustainable foundation and faith that your efforts will get you to your dreams.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Thank God for Audible! I would say that Tuesday’s with Morrie by Mitch Albom and Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield were books I enjoyed. Tuesday’s with Morrie taught me the importance of serving others, and while serving others supports the person(s) in need it shapes, changes and teaches the supporter so much too. “To give to others is to give to ourselves.” Chicken Soup books were empowering short stories that showed me the power of the human spirit and the courage of all kinds of people of all ages. Heroes came in all shapes, sizes, genders and ages!! That powerful testament is what I have applied to my life and shared with others whom I have served. The Chicken Soup for the Soul books were so inspiring and impactful to me, that I used them as a template to write my first book — “When The Puck Drops; 17 Stories That Will Rock You, Shock You And Inspire You.”

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“When you believe in you as much as you want others to believe in you, that is when success finds you” Growing up unsure of myself and my abilities, I fell short, because I was awaiting the belief of others to light my own flame. I told myself that if no one was giving me permission to live my dreams, they must NOT matter, and they clearly weren’t important. I learned my dreams come to me and are unique to me. If others are to believe in me and my dreams, I MUST go first!!!!! Funny enough; when I go first, I have countless of supporters. I teach this to athletes and their families through my coaching and mentoring practice. It is a game changer for athletes.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My second book; The Pillars of Greatness. Although I’m workout on an number of great projects, my book is 20 years on the making… heck, it’s probably been in the making since 1967!!! The Pillars of Greatness are the ones I used to turn my life around, then taught it to the thousands of youth around the world. I share that greatness isn’t something you get, win, or acquire… it’s who you are…. greatness is inside of you… and great people do great things. My goal is to get the book into the hands of 110,000 athletes within 90 days of its release. Reach out and ask me that story.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Habits are the foundation of our actions. You want something different for your life? You must do the work!!! You ACT your way into a new way of thinking. You don’t think your way into a new way of acting. Our actions are the pavers along our path to our outcomes. Habits are the pavers on our path. Change your habits change your life. Here’s a great story — An athlete I mentored wanted support with one of his goals and I said we could work towards that, and I require him to complete 1 habit each day; “make your bed,” I told him. To his shock… thinking I was about to offer him some magic pill. He asked, “Why?” I told him to complete this habit for 14 consecutive days and at the end of the 14 days to tell me how (if) it affected him. He accepted. At the end of 14 days, he was amazed at how it changed his life…all because his bed was made. His mom was no longer nagging him each morning. And because the nagging had stopped, he joined the family in the kitchen for breakfast. Plus to his amazement his mom not only had breakfast ready for him, she also prepared a lunch for him to take to school. This new change allowed him to leave the house prepared to tackle the day, fuelled, connected to his family and connected to himself. WOW! Who knew making your bed would yield such powerful results?

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I have a list of habits within my Daily Game Sheets that set me into motion and keep me focused throughout each day. These are the markers that keep me on track and help me grow to where I say I want to be. One of the important habits is making my bed. It sets the tone for my day and reminds me that I achieved something today, regardless of what the day has brought on.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Developing good habits takes practice. It starts by identifying the area(s) of your life that you’d like to change. Once you’ve identified those areas go deeper and look at (and take responsibility for) what you have been doing to contribute to these outcomes. Once you’re aware of these choices and actions you’ve been taking, simply replace one of them (preferably a bad habit) with an uplifting one. One that is in line with where you say you want to go or what you want to achieve. Continue to repeat this process until slowly you begin shaping your habits and your actions in favour of the outcomes you desire.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Wellness habits? I counsel athletes I coach to have a really strong sleep habit. Sleep health is incredibly important. It allows the body and the brain to regenerate, recharge and prepare for the next day. It is cliché to suggest that sleep is important and that Champions don’t sleep. The reality is consistent sleep health is essential for success. Performance habits? Start with having good mental health. My clients have adopted the use of my exclusive Daily Game Sheets. This morning practice provides clarity, stability and focus before the day even begins. You, me, everyone has challenges and issues to deal with each day. When I am prepared, focused and mentally dialled in, then I’m able to step out into the world and take-on whatever is waiting for me with the mental strength and confidence. Focus habits? An essential ingredient to a Pillars of greatness program is Focus. It’s so easy to become distracted or to get pulled off of our path. The Daily Game Sheets provide a sense of alignment and focus to your goals and dreams.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

When I get asked “But how do I do that?” My answer: Do your Game Sheets, Do your Game Sheets, Do your Game Sheets. This morning practice is essential. Being lined up for success takes initiative, commitment and self-discipline. The Game Sheets help in all three areas mentioned in the previous question.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Quality sleep. Daily use of Game Sheets. A few minutes of meditation.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Best ways to practice good quality sleep is develop a sleeping routine. Establish a desired bedtime in advance that includes a ritual to prepare for bedtime, and go to bed when you said you would. You may need to ask family/housemates for their support on this one and only you can make this happen. Do your Game Sheets in the morning. Get them done first thing before you start your day. Much like your sleeping routine, you must prepare to follow through. Set yourself up in advance with a space, writing material and whatever else you require to be prepared. Then get to work. Meditation is a great practice to create good mental health. Prepare a few moments in the morning and/or evening to sit alone in silence (you can even use music). Clear your mind of your thoughts. When I struggle with this practice (and I do sometimes), I think of the things that bring me joy and peace… like playing with my daughters or being on my favourite hiking trails or biking. Start with 1 to 2 minutes and after a while increase your time. Have fun with these and watch your performance, perspective and peace of mind propel you to a productive day.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

3 habits for focus depend on quality sleep, Game Sheets and connection with others.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Well, you have the first two. Connection with others I refer to as building a Legendary Army. The Pillars of Greatness goes deep into this… but in short these are people you trust and can lean on. You can discuss your feelings, challenges, successes and failures with them. As humans, we are good at making mountains out of molehills. And when we do this, it’s great to have someone to lean on who a) help us see past our fears and b) help us develop a plan/strategy to tackle what we are facing.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of flow more often in our lives?

For me flow is about finding fulfilment in what I do AND who I am. I describe fulfilment as having two legs. One represents fulfilment inward. This means working on your spirituality (your inner-self). They are the parts of you that need attention, healing, connection and support in order to say and be who you need to be, with the necessary courage and confidence, showing up unapologetically in the world with all of your gifts. The second leg of fulfilment represents your fulfillment outward. These are all the adventures, experiences and things you want to do in your life. Some people have a bucket list while others have goals and aspirations. Our outward fulfilment builds memories that become the snap shots of a life well-lived. Having a balance of inward and outward fulfilments provide me with the state of flow, balance and vibration. It helps me connect with my creative, passionate self AND it also helps me connect with my nurturing and compassionate self while the world moves around me.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

SERVING YOUTH through The Pillars of Greatness. I am about teaching athletes, parents, coaches and youth leaders that greatness is not something to be achieved, to be won or to be gained. Greatness resides within each of us and has been there since our moment of birth. There’s so much pressure thrust upon athletes to be a certain way, to achieve, to fill the trophy case and get to the top of the mountain but most parents, coaches and youth leaders forget to teach VALUES and their importance. Through the Pillars of Greatness I want to show youths around the world to Dream. Plan. Execute. their way to a life of service, happiness and fulfilment.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

This is a fabulous question and I love playing this game. My choice is with a thought leader and someone who provokes an outside the box way of thinking and living. I pick Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary vee). For the reasons mentioned above, I think he offers a fresh, intense and passionate perspective about the world, technology and a fresh view of what winning looks like.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on all major social platforms — Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dan.blackburn.167), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dan-blackburn-2908b0a/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/danwblackburn/), Snapchat @danwblackburn and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/therealdanblackburn) with @NTChockey on TikTok. You can also visit DanBlackburn.com and NTCHockey.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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