You’ve most likely ice hockey players sniffing small packets of an unknown substance while sitting on the bench before they play. It makes one wonder, do hockey players have a drug problem?
The answer is no. Hockey players are sniffing ammonia-laced salt.
The packets are known as smelling salts. They contain the active compound ammonium carbonate, a colorless-to-white crystalline solid, which helps stimulate the body’s nervous system.
Trainers and coaches pass out these small packets to their teams. Players then squeeze the packet and start waving the broken capsule under their noses. The reaction is comical.
Noses wrinkle, nostrils flare, eyes water. Some guys even hop in place. The reaction is due to its pungent smell. Smelling salt is harmless, though. A funny face means it’s working.
Smelling salts work by triggering the fight or flight response, a reaction that occurs when the body is perceived to be under attack. The evolutionary response supplies a boost of energy that increases strength and speed.
Taking a small whiff opens nasal passages, elevates heart rate, lifts blood pressure and increases brain activity. These effects are why ice hockey players think smelling salts will help with their performance out on the ice.
As it turns out, smelling salt only gives players a little jolt. There isn’t scientific evidence that proves it enhances performance.
Despite this fact, smelling salt has become an integral part of a hockey pregame ritual.
Hockey is superstitious in many ways. Players will eat the same meal before a game or put on their gear in a specific order. Smelling salt is like taping up a hockey stick a certain way.
But there is a more rational explanation. Players may be giving into confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias occurs when someone only looks for what confirms their intuitions and ignores what contradicts their existing beliefs.
Players who experience a positive outcome in a game attribute the smelling salt to their success. But there could be any number of explanations for a good play.
Good for a short period, smelling salt is more of a temporary mental boost than a permanent performance-enhancing solution.
You can find boxes of smelling salt for sale on Amazon. Just don’t buy a bottle of pure ammonia and start sniffing that. The concentration will likely burn your eyebrows off. Stay safe and buy the capsules.