Hockey players can be extremely focused on their training and the physical aspect of the game that they sometimes forget the MENTAL and EMOTIONAL aspect is just as important. The Hockey Mind is something that must be sharpened through a player’s career, which allows the athlete to fully become the best hockey player they can be. We have partnered with world-class coaches and leading authorities in emotional INTELLIGENCE as it relates to performance in sport. The tips in this section are designed to give you the opportunity to FOCUS on things away from the ice that will allow you to better PREPARE your mind for when you are on it. The key to hockey HAPPINESS is something all players strive for, but is something that is extremely hard to fully conquer. The tools you need to be mentally prepared to change the game are only a click away, so what are you waiting for?!
Hockey players can be so focused on the physical aspect of the game that they forget the mental aspect is just as important.
Be in the Moment and Own It to Help Your Hockey Performance
By Mental & Emotional Coach, John Haime
As we move forward in the 2019 season and playoffs are on the horizon, we start looking forward to great and memorable playoff performances.
Will I rise up and perform to my potential?
Will it be just the same old thing with similar results?
The sport of hockey is literally defined by moments. It all comes down to one moment on the ice for you to make an impact on the game.
With this reality, I might suggest that if you “own the moment” in the coming playoff season – a little more than you did in the regular season, you can create a performance reality that exceeds your expectations – and bring a different level of joy to your time in the game.
Here’s how …
Play in the Moment
There are three potential places your mind could be when you are on the ice. The past, the present or the future. Of these three places, there is only one place where you can absolutely control performance – that is the current moment. And this is exactly where noted psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his best-selling book “Flow” made his mark as a researcher. His research demonstrates that people are happiest and most productive when in a state of flow – when they are totally absorbed in the task at hand, and the challenge of the situation is equal to (or just above) their skill level. This is where you must strive to be when playing the game. The past and future are distractions to performance in the here and now. The past has happened, so dwelling on it is not productive. The future has not happened, so being fearful about what might happen is not productive. In this playoff season, adopt a practice that focuses you in the moment (a simple mindfulness practice is a good start) to help you own the moment on the ice. At every opportunity, pull yourself back into the moment you are playing in.
Fall in love with the process and results will follow
To help you further with “playing in the moment”, a focus on your playing process can be a key for you. The key to every plan is not necessarily the ultimate goal or target – but the small steps
needed to take you there. These small steps, often focused on a technique or strategy that you have worked on and tested in practice this year, keep your mind on your execution on the and not on outcomes like winning – that you have no control over. In order for you to “own the moment” and stay in the moment, put all of your attention on what’s important to play your best in the moment – great positional play, an aggressive, proactive approach, your best effort on each shift or whatever “your” focuses in practice might be. Fall in love with your process and let the outcomes fall where they may.
This is my time – no one else’s
It all comes down to you. You are the one who can make a difference in the game – or help teammates to make a difference. You accept feedback and instructions from coaches, but ultimately decide how you will
use it. You are responsible for your own enjoyment in the game of hockey and determine who impacts that joy. Will you allow the many distractions in the game to dampen the reasons you play in the first place – because you love it. Owning the moment is about taking responsibility for your playing experience and your performances. Each moment on the ice, whether practicing or playing, is yours – no one else. In this year’s playoffs, make a commitment that you are in control and solely responsible for your performance – there will be no excuses or blame.
These are three simple keys to help you own your play in the upcoming playoff season. The opportunity exists for you to create your reality and embrace the beauty of it in the coming playoff season. Each “moment” for you on the ice is an opportunity to shine and express your potential, so embrace each opportunity and own it!
Wishing you some great moments on the ice in the playoff season.
The past number of months I have worked with many teams helping to get everyone on the same page, working to establish an agreed upon culture and help to identify any issues that could be preventing the team from maximizing individual abilities. As you know there are so many factors that come into play in the development of a great team. Part of it is the attitude of the player and how well they fit into the team concept.
During these sessions, one exercise we do is identifying “get” and “give” players and how the two very different attitudes impact the team and the team’s results.
What is a “Get” or “Give” Player?
There is a big difference between a “get” and “give” hockey player and knowing the difference is important to you and could directly impact how far you go in the game in the hockey.
Let me explain:
Some athletes are primarily focused on what they get for themselves (“what do I get”) within the team structure. They generally want to know how they can…
Get to score even when they may not be in a position to
Get to show up for practice when they want
Get to start
Get to always be in the line-up
Get to play more minutes
Get attention as the star of the team
Get to give less than their best because they’ve been on the team awhile
Get to do what they want at the expense of teammates
Get rewards beyond the team (scholarships, individual rewards)
Get to have the trust of others when they don’t trust teammates
Now, there are other athletes on the team who have a “what can I give” approach. They are focused on giving to the team and what they get is not the priority…
Give their best effort in all practices, training and games
Give the team an example of their team values in action every day
Give their team a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances
Give their team a lift even playing a small amount of minutes
Give their team a chance to win no matter what position they play
Give other players a chance to get the glory
Give the team an example of sacrifice for the better of the group
Give the team an example they can follow
Give coaches a very coachable attitude
Why You Must Be a “Give” Player
There are many advantages to be a give player. Here are a few reasons why give players have the advantage:
Every coach looks for the “what can I give” athlete for their team – coaches look for reasons not to select the “what do I get” athlete
It’s far more fun to be on a team with “what can I give” athletes – the culture is more honest, more humble and teammates generally trust each other
It’s a funny thing in life that the more you give – the more you seem to get back – so a player who gives also “gets” in return
What is the Result of a “What Can I Give” Culture?
The best example of a culture of giving in sports is the New Zealand All Blacks – rugby’s most successful team in history with an 86% winning percentage. Their “sweep the sheds” culture and attitude not only promote an honest, high performing, family environment – but they also win!
After every game the All Blacks players sweep the locker room of every last piece of grass, tape, and mud. No matter if they are playing a friendly match or in the World Cup – they take responsibility for leaving the locker room the way they found it. No one looks after the All Blacks – they look after themselves. They also strive to leave “the shirt” in a better place than they got it when they eventually leave the program. They are not there to “get”. They are there to “give”.
Are you a “get” or “give” player? If you are a “get” player, you may consider what it might take for you to become a more “give” player. You may be surprised that a transition to a “give” player may help you “get” exactly what you want.
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
The wisdom of the master Jedi also applies to hockey—identifying your fears is the first step toward conquering them.
I think we can agree that fear isn’t fun. It makes you feel anxious, unsure of yourself and can have a significant impact on how much you enjoy the game. It also shrinks confidence – a secret weapon you need to play your best on the ice. And, don’t forget, your fear can impact your hockey teammates too – so addressing your fears is important for you and the success of your team!
What is it you’re afraid of in your game?
Well… it could be many things from the real, tangible fear of failure, making mistakes, not reaching expectations set for you, disappointing coaches or parents, or a rather lengthy list of reasons that can cause those uncomfortable feelings and take the enjoyment out of your game.
But fear not! There’s help on the way for you to address any fear you have and bring a more relaxed, carefree mindset to your game.
Biology Doesn’t Help
First, if you don’t feel fear, you simply aren’t a human being. We all feel fear, to different degrees – it’s what makes us human. I have the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading athletes, including NHL players – and they feel fear – so it’s not surprising that you might feel fear in your game too.
To a degree, we are all prisoners of our biology. As human beings, we are built to survive and protect ourselves. The amygdala, or control center of the emotional brain, makes sure of that. This little alarm mechanism has ensured the survival of the human species for centuries. You know how it works – you perceive a threat, the alarm goes off and that uncomfortable feeling begins. We all know this feeling.
When human life was about “eat or be eaten”, and our ancestors were dealing with real, life threatening challenges everyday, the alarm was a must have. But, for you as a hockey player the emotional brain doesn’t really know the difference between a hungry lion chasing your ancestor and your perceived threat of embarrassing yourself on the ice. That’s important for you to know.
The What Ifs
Working with hockey players every day, the primary cause of fear that I address is a future projection of what a player believes may happen – what we call the “what ifs”. The tendency is projecting out that something negative may happen (protect mode) and that makes the athlete anxious in the moment telling themselves things like:
“I can’t do it” or “Why am I doing this?”
An example for you might be… you arrive at the rink for a game, coaches, parents and others are waiting for you to perform and the voice inside you starts considering threats and acting up…
“WHAT IF I look dumb in front of everyone?”
“WHAT IF I screw up and let my team down?”
“WHAT IF I let my coach and supporters down?”
“WHAT IF I don’t play well?”
This creates your anxious feeling, and depending on the intensity of the feeling, it can be a real distraction… and sometimes even overwhelming.
There are many “what if” scenarios that could distract you from your central purpose for playing the game – enjoying the game you love and achieving something important to you. Keep in mind that although you project out these things might happen, they almost always never do – and that’s important for you to remember.
Isolated experiences from the past can also create feelings of fear – negative emotional memories can be brought forward to cause the anxious feelings and also distract you from today’s performance. Experiences in the past are real and a part of you – but your focus must be on all of the great, positive experiences in the game (there will be many) leaving the few, negative ones behind.
So … there is nothing wrong with you for feeling fear. It is normal. Recognize that your emotional brain always has the antenna up to perceive threats. Remember the advice from Yoda as a first step – you must recognize your fear. Then, you must ask yourself the question of how much of a threat it really is.
Some Ideas & Practical Strategies That May Help
Let’s talk about some ways you can address your fears. Here are a few simple recommendations that we might use with a player that might help you deal with fear and put it in perspective…
Address your fears directly. What are you afraid of and what might be the reasons? When you understand what might be causing your fear and acknowledge it, it will help you consider ideas how to address it.
Always remember your purpose for playing. “I love playing hockey because I love the speed, the competitive environment, the opportunity to show my skills and sharing an experience with my teammates”. Write your purpose down and keep it front and center – always! Your purpose will help you create perspective about what’s REALLY important in your game and why you are doing it. Remember also that have a feeling of gratitude about the opportunity to play and do what you love to do can fill you with positive energy and dampen the feelings of fear.
Learn to manage the most important voice in your game… and your life – your own! Sometimes our own voice doesn’t help and tells you things you really don’t want to hear … building the threats into something bigger than they are. It’s important to develop your own Emotional Caddie – a friendly, supportive voice that you might use if your best friend was having troubles. Try the same language and tone with yourself. A few suggestions might be…
“I can’t wait to test what I’ve been working on in practice.”
“Everyone watching is supporting me. I’ll treat them to some great play.”
“My best effort is all I can do – I may make a few mistakes – being perfect doesn’t exist.”
“Pressure really gives my game meaning – this is where I want to be!
Confidence and constantly building it is a secret weapon to overcome fear123`AS=ZZ. Creating a feeling of “knowing” you can do it in your practice and preparation will help keep those fearful “what if” thoughts from taking over. After all, you’ve done great work in your practice with the team and on your own – you know you can do it – so bring the same feelings and approach to the game ice.
Practice mindfulness to enjoy hockey and stay in the moment. The future is where your goals are – but you don’t achieve them without staying in the moment and paying attention to the steps that will get you to those goals. Choose to bring the positive experiences from the past forward to support your confidence – and choose to leave the few negative ones where they belong – behind you!
Know the difference between prove vs improve – The goal in your game should always be trying to improve all of your skills (technical, physical, strategic, mental/emotional). Sometimes when our goal is to “prove” ourselves to others, fear will creep in – the fear of the “what ifs” and trying to meet other’s expectations of you. Winning is great, but it will only come if you are doing the right things – enjoying yourself and trying to become a better player each day.
So, if fear is holding you back from really enjoying your hockey and using all your abilities, fear not! Remember that you are in control of your fears and there are practical actions that can help you douse the flames – helping you to be a more confident, proactive player. Follow these steps and you are well on your way to your Pursuit of Greatness!
Being around the rink, I hear the word “perfect” a lot. And, that is always cause for some concern.
Too often, hockey players try to be “perfect” when they perform. These players set high expectations (their own or the standards of others), then become upset and frustrated when they fail to match these standards. They can also frustrate teammates and coaches with this mindset.
I hear from parents and coaches who worry about young players who become easily frustrated and take disappointment home with them… too often.
You’re likely familiar with players who show perfectionist behaviors.
There are Pros and Cons of the Perfectionist Player
Perfectionist athletes tend to criticize themselves for making mistakes, often hold high and unrealistic expectations for themselves and tend to get frustrated easily after making a mistake. These athletes are often perfectionists in other aspects of their lives–in school, at work and even at home.
On a positive note, you will find some advantages to perfectionism in players. Perfectionist athletes tend to work hard, are highly committed to their targets and are willing to learn and improve.
The problem is these positive traits often hide the problems that are associated with perfectionism in the sport of hockey. The players are so motivated that you often don’t think of them as having mental/ emotional struggles.
Perfectionists Undermine Their Own Play
Athletes who try to be perfect can undermine their performance in many ways. Here are a few:
Focusing too much on results leading to a vicious cycle of working hard, setting higher expectations and then thinking they are failing to reach their expectations.
Unknowingly embrace very high expectations. They do this unconsciously. When they don’t achieve their expectations, they feel frustrated feeling like they have failed – and this can result in destructive behaviour.
They don’t enjoy the game like they should. There is so much pressure to be perfect that they forget the real purpose of playing – to have fun, enjoy the experience and achieve challenging goals.
Here’s a classic example from a Hockey Dad: “He is obsessive with the perfect shift or perfect shot. If he makes a mistake, it’s all we hear about instead of the great moments he had in the game. He’s never happy with his efforts in the game.”
Excellence is Always the Goal
There is a big difference between perfection and excellence and I’d like to encourage you to think about making excellence your goal.
By creating realistic and challenging expectations and helping players focus on manageable targets, they are put in the best position to succeed and enjoy the sport they love.
Some characteristics of excellence players…
A player who focuses on their personal best, not impossible goals
A player who has reasonable expectations and takes into consideration that mistakes are a normal, frequent part of sport
A player who focuses more on what they did well vs. the mistakes they made
A player who learns from failure instead of being devastated by it – moving forward to better performances
A player who keeps going when things get difficult – not giving up
Remember that perfection is an unachievable pursuit. Nothing in life is perfect and nothing in hockey is either – the player, competitors, coaches and all surroundings have flaws, so to continually anticipate and expect a flawless, mistake-free performance is not only harmful to performance, but illogical!
What Parents and Coaches Can Do
Begin by identifying the very high or perfectionist expectations that pressure your young player. These are the expectations that motivate them to have a “perfect” shift or game and not make any mistakes.
Once you identify these expectations – “I can’t make any mistakes”, or “I have to win” – your job is to replace them with simple, process-oriented targets.
Smaller, more manageable targets such as “the best I can do on each shift” or “I want to get a good shot off on goal each period” helps players focus on the process. It also contributes to better results.
Manageable goals focus the hockey player on the execution of one moment or one shift at a time.
The Right Goal
As hockey parent or coach, you want to be mindful about placing unreasonably high expectations on your players. You may do this without even realizing you’re doing it.
Some parents and coaches ask young athletes for results–and place expectations on them–in an attempt to boost their confidence. They might say, “let’s get a win tonight” or “let’s score a couple of goals in the game”. Unfortunately, such well-meaning input can cause players–especially perfectionists–to try to meet these expectations. They then feel frustrated and disappointed when they don’t.
By creating realistic and challenging expectations and helping young athletes focus on manageable targets, you put them in the best position to succeed and help them maximize the enjoyment in the game.
Excellence should always be the goal with players.
As the game clock ticks, we all get trapped in repeating habits, in a comfortable zone – most often below where we are capable of playing. What you may not know about these habits is they are below your consciousness and determine what you think you can or can’t do. You become comfortable with these habits and they end up running the show.
What is Your Comfort Zone?
Everyone knows about the idea of comfort zone: the space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It’s a comfy place where you’re not threatened and everything always stays the same – offering you mental security.
There’s a lot of science that highlights why it’s so challenging to break out of your comfort zone, and why it’s good for you when you do it. With a little understanding and a few adjustments, you can break away from your comfort zone by expanding it… and improve your game.
In 1908, Psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson showed that a state of comfort created a steady level of performance. But, they also highlighted that if you want to increase your performance, a state of relative anxiety is needed – a place where stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This is called Optimal Anxiety and it’s beyond your comfort zone. Further, they also showed that too much anxiety can produce too much stress leading to performance drop-offs. So, finding the balance for you is key.
You are not alone in the quest to expand your comfort zone. The leading professional hockey players and other athletes I work with daily are constantly working to shift their comfort zone and find the place leading to higher performance. If you want to become a better player and see improvement, it’s an important exercise for you too.
The Comfort Zone Can Shrink.
Let me give you an example of my first introduction to comfort zone.
I grew up at a golf club and, as a part of my summer duties, I did the scoring each year at the club championship. I stood at the scoreboard and marked scores of the membership. Players were categorized in four divisions – A, B, C and D – based on handicap index. I saw the same faces each year, and year after year, players turned in their card and it was déjà vu – the same players turned in basically the same card… and same score… every year.
I always wondered how it was possible that a golfer could play (and practice) the game for 10, 20, or 30 years and stay in the same division every year without any real shift in improvement!
The answer is comfort zone. The longer you stay in the same comfort zone, the more it shrinks and the harder it is to expand it. The more you continue to do the same things, make the same mistakes, engrain the same habits, the more your comfort zone shrinks – and you become THAT player – your identity.
What Causes You to Be in the Comfort Zone?
You’ve seen it many times. You start playing great or “out of your mind” in a game and then WHAMMO – a little bit of poor play brings you back to reality. This often happens when a player has some good play early and then subconsciously slips back to “where I should be”.
In your game, your comfort zone is determined by how you think you typically play. Whenever you play, you’d like to play a little better, take a little more risk, but you are expecting a result in your “usual” range. Inevitably, you’ll have games where you flirt with play outside your zone; maybe you play the first two periods really well, recognizing that a great third period will give you a result well above your normal zone.
Then what happens?
You start thinking about what could be. You start playing conservatively, trying to “protect” your great two periods of play. Next thing you know, you’ve adjusted everything back to the comfy zone and the great game fades away.
I’m sure you’ve also seen the reverse happen. You have a couple of poor periods and then a sudden surge of good play at the end of a game mysteriously puts you back in that comfortable performance place.
What are Your Roadblocks to Growth as a Player?
We all have roadblocks to growth. Despite your efforts to want to grow and get better, certain walls can interfere with your progress as a player. Here’s a few that may be familiar to you…
Fear of growth (not feeling safe to grow) – a major barrier is what is called the “I’m stuck” syndrome. “I’ve always been that way, so how could I possibly change?” You feel stuck at times, and when you do, you don’t feel great about yourself… or your game.
A negative view of yourself as a hockey player – you see and know yourself as an average player or someone who struggles to excel in games, so that’s where you stay as a player.
Skepticism – you believe any steps you take to improve won’t work or will be a waste of time. “I tried that and it didn’t work.”
Uncertainty regarding how to begin or what direction to take – you don’t know how to get better, how to evaluate your game or what steps to take to do it.
Challenging yourself emotionally – forcing yourself to work on your limitations. Not an easy thing to do and not as fun as the feeling of working on your strengths and seeing a good result.
It’s too late for me to change, I’m too old or I don’t have enough time. You use excuses that it’s not the right time to improve – and put off doing it.
The most important factor for you to break out of your comfort zone is asking yourself why you are staying in it! You must be genuinely interested in improvement, and know what benefits you want to get out of it.
Step by Step – Build Slowly.
Expanding the perimeter of your comfort zone by slowly and intelligently pushing your barriers will build confidence. The process should be methodical and progressive. Don’t run out and try to change your entire game overnight. Evaluate what needs to be done – physically, mentally and emotionally to move up a level – and create the steps to get there. It will be a gradual process and almost guaranteed won’t be a straight line.
Some Ideas to Start Expanding Your Comfort Zone.
Face Your Fears – stepping out of your comfortable area will probably cause some fear – the dreaded “what ifs” are the downfall of many players. “What if I fail?”, “What if I really can’t do this?”, “What if I’m not good enough?” Stay in the moment and do things slowly. A committed plan with reasonable milestones will give you the confidence to get to a new place.
Change Your Routine – you can begin growing your comfort zone through small changes in your approach to the game – adding 30 minutes/ week working on a weakness, get feedback from coaches on what needs improvement and how to do it and understand your own emotional make-up so you know what causes ups and downs in your game. What are the triggers that cause emotional shifts?
Get Out of Your Own Way – See yourself in a new light. You probably put self-induced limits on yourself. The truth is, sometimes you’ve just got to get out of your own way. If you begin seeing yourself as a better player, chances are you will be. Raise your opinion of your game and yourself and you will set the table for better performance.
Time to Change
Comfort feels all cozy and warm when you’re in it, but it’s also a double-edged sword. If you stay comfortable for too long, you begin to get bored, lazy and too satisfied with average results. If you want to improve in the game, challenge the status quo – push your limits and you’ll see the game in a new light.
It won’t be easy and will take some time but I think you’ll like the results.
About 24 months ago, we got a call from a concerned Dad about his teenage elite hockey player. There were fundamental problems with the two critical keys of high-performance – enjoyment and achievement. Both were missing. No fun and no results. His son had become frustrated with the sport, it was a chore going to the rink, games were filled with anxiety, confidence was low and results were negligible. The drama around the sport was also becoming negative with the impacts of some unprofessional coaching, social media, and the burden of expectations. It was time to either quit and find something else to do … or do something about it.
Fast forward 24 months after a mental/ emotional development process that developed the critical skills the young hockey players needed to both achieve his targets, add great value to the team and have fun playing hockey again …
From Dad … “I can’t believe the turnaround and the change in attitude from not wanting to go to the rink to now putting everything he’s got into hockey. His goal of playing in college is now achieved and he made the all-rookie team and is dominating on the ice.”
Mental/ Emotional High-Performance Development Can Be the Difference in Your Hockey Career
I have the wonderful privilege of working with some of the world’s leading athletes in many different sports (including the National Hockey League). These athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to training and performance. They understand that performance starts in the mind – so building their mental and emotional muscles is a priority toward maximizing their abilities. Spending equal time on all the key areas of performance enables them to have a healthy, proactive approach to their sport.
In an athlete performance model – there are four key areas:
Technical – your skill development – fundamentals
Physical – physical development to support your technical skills
Strategic – hockey sense and understanding how to play the game
Mental/ Emotional – critical fundamentals and tools that drive the physical performance
It has been my experience in the sport of hockey that with the emphasis on year-round training and complete commitment to bigger, faster, stronger physical development, the training of the player’s mind is secondary. The lack of training in the mental/emotional component inhibits the player from truly bringing maximum value to their own game and the game of the team. The player does not truly develop into a happy, healthy athlete.
The traditional nature of the hockey culture has created an environment of late adoption to new approaches compared to other sports. Players and coaches have not embraced the exponential benefits of mental and emotional high-performance development. Non-stop technical and physical training has been the priority with the hockey mind far behind.
This late adoption is potentially being fuelled by some myths about the area of performance that is maybe not completely understood. These myths may be ultimately holding players back from progress in the quest to reach their potential and fully maximize their experience in the sport.
A Few Myths that Might Be Holding Your Playing Back
I’d like to dispel a few myths that may cause you to hesitate and prevent you from working on developing your mental & emotional muscles – and ultimately preclude you from being the best player you can be …
Myth: There is something wrong with me if I need to work on mental/emotional skills in my sport.
Fact: Mental and emotional high-performance development in sport is not about fixing an athlete. It is completely about developing skills that are required to maximize abilities. It is an educational process. Like building your technical, physical and strategic skills each day, the same effort must be made to develop the mental and emotional aspect.
Myth: Mental and emotional high-performance training is for athletes who are mentally weak.
Fact: Mental and emotional training is for all athletes. Any athlete, at any level should be developing the skills that more fully allow them to express their technical and physical training. Consider that every great athlete is coached – no matter what level. Why? So they can continue to improve and insure sustainability and consistency.
Myth: Mental and Emotional high-performance development is only for elite players.
Fact: Any level of hockey or age can benefit from mental & emotional high-performance development. Parents and coaches can also benefit. Not only will mental & emotional high-performance development help you on the ice – but the skills are highly transferable to all areas of life like school, business, leadership and relationships.
Myth: Mental & emotional training is a quick fix and a short-term thing.
Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is a process to build independence and confidence in the client athlete. Like any skill, it takes time and repetition to build competency and confidence. Tricks and tips never work. Mastery of mental/ emotional fundamentals and a great process does.
Myth: Mental & emotional training is too much like therapy, lying on a couch talking about my feelings.
Fact: Mental and emotional training in hockey is about high performance and developing performance skills. A great performance expert has a defined, quantifiable process that includes assessment, building detailed plans, communicating with coaches and using the latest technologies to help the hockey athlete improve. The work is done through conversation, watching, reviewing and planning at a convenient location or at the rink.
Why Mental/ Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You
Forward thinking NHL executives like Brad Treliving understand the benefits of mental/ emotional high-performance development and that it’s the next frontier in hockey. His club is looking for players, in environments like the NHL combine, that have both physical and mental/ emotional capabilities …
“The mental aspect of the sport is 90 percent of it,” says Treliving. “Physical deficiencies can be addressed,” but he indicates mental skills can’t be so easily tweaked.
Players in the future will need a strong mental & emotional framework as hockey catches up to other sports and places more emphasis on what’s under the helmet.
Here are a just a few benefits of mental/emotional high-performance development that you might not have considered:
Building self-awareness. Working with the world’s leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that 8/10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a hockey player to maximize abilities. Development of self-awareness through hockey will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.
Building confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will insure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the ice!
A clear path forward. A detailed, concise athlete plan is required including a vision for your hockey career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most athletes have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets and therefore most often get lost along the way and don’t reach targets.
Awareness and regulation of emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high-performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.
Building focus. We live in a world of distraction – phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to centre the focus on what’s important. Mental/emotional high-performance development builds a new level of focus.
Insuring enjoyment. The ultimate result of your hockey career is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that do not enable them to enjoy the sport.
So, what are you waiting for?
There are hockey players all over the world who have technical and physical talent – but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like players in the NHL who are now embracing mental & emotional development, building their mental & emotional muscles and achieving more.
I encourage you to be an early adopter and take the next step to maximize your hockey abilities – and more fully enjoy the sport you love. Be proactive and don’t wait for issues to arise. Take a developmental stance and build the skills to maximize your abilities and gain an edge over your competition. And, as a major added benefit, you’ll take these skills and become a high performer in everything you do!
That might seem like a strange question to ask a high performing athlete, but the emotion of gratitude can help take your performance to the next level. We have seen performance shifts with some of the world’s leading athletes by adopting a grateful attitude.
Let me explain …
Research has linked the emotion of gratitude to better overall physical and mental health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression. Athletes are more satisfied with their teams, less likely to burn out and enjoy better well-being overall.
In my work with athletes, and in previous articles I have written, I highlight the importance of “enjoyment over achievement”. Making sure that enjoyment is at the forefront of performance in hockey with achievement following. The player who pursues achievement in hockey so diligently that they forget about one of the key purposes of the game, enjoyment and fun, can often end frustrated and miserable. The athlete who pursues enjoyment first, with a deep commitment to excellence and improvement is the athlete who lasts and achieves.
So why can focusing on gratitude be so beneficial to you as a hockey player?
Well consider that it is impossible to have two emotions at once. And, the same goes for thoughts for that matter – we can only handle one thought at a time. As an athlete, this is important for you to know. When you do feel negative emotions that limit your performance, you have the option of changing your state to a positive emotion – and gratitude is a great one to make the shift.
A few characteristics of grateful hockey players …
Grateful hockey players appreciate what they have
While some players complain, make excuses and don’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity of sport, grateful players are excited to have the opportunity to play a sport they love and all of the benefits that go with that sport (fitness, relationships, life lessons, joy of winning, the learning from losing and the opportunity to challenge and test your abilities).
Grateful hockey players are grateful for competitors
Appreciate your competitors! Competitors can bring out the best in you and without them you do not have the opportunity to play and test your limits. Competitors give you an opportunity to bring out your best. In his autobiography, former Olympic track star Carl Lewis reports that he chose to embrace his competitors as essential in the quest for performance excellence rather than as enemies meant to be beaten down. Lewis won 10 Olympic medals, nine of them gold. You may look at your competitors as threats, but they are important to your development and you need them!
Grateful hockey players appreciate the journey and struggle
They know that there will be difficulties and hockey performance often goes in cycles – ups and downs. Grateful players learn from these struggles to always move forward. There is an appreciation in the value of their struggles and an ability to look at the big picture and know there are brighter days ahead.
Grateful hockey players “sweep the shed”
Like the great World Champion New Zealand All Blacks who tidy up their dressing room after every training and game, and believe humility is aligned with greatness, grateful players appreciate everyone around them. They appreciate everything they receive – there is no attitude of entitlement.
Grateful hockey players enjoy pressure
Is there pressure in sports? Yes! But, grateful players recognize the incredible opportunity they have to demonstrate their skills and test their limits. You play a game you love often with people engaged and cheering what you do. Grateful players appreciate the meaning that pressure gives their experience. They know pressure is a privilege. Grateful players look around and appreciate the challenge that is being given to them.
Grateful hockey players do not rely on winning
Because they are so focused on a great process and appreciate great competition, the joy of grateful players is not dependent on winning. They want to win, but really appreciate their process, the competition and the challenge.
Grateful hockey players let go
When it’s time to play and practice, it is done with purpose, intention and efficiency. Grateful players work hard with intention but also appreciate and enjoy their time away from practice and competition – appreciating all parts of their life.
So, what can you do to become a grateful hockey player?
Here’s a start …
Realize how lucky you are to be playing a sport, having the opportunity to express yourself and having the opportunity to give your life meaning.
Remember you can only feel one emotion at once. Replace anxious feelings with feelings of gratefulness – make the decision to change your state with a shift to being grateful for this great opportunity to participate in your sport and test your abilities.
“I can’t do this” or “what will they think if I lose” shifts to a grateful attitude…
“How lucky am I to do this and test my skills”
As an exercise, at the end of each day, think about two things you are grateful for from the day. Get in the habit of being grateful for things in hockey and in your life away from hockey.
Remember to be grateful for what you have including your opportunity to play hockey. Hockey is not something you have to do, but something you get to do!
I was inspired to write this article by a quote I come across from a friend of mine, Melinda Harrison, a former Olympic swimmer who specializes in helping athletes transition from the world of sport to their next great venture.
“If you do not see the wave coming, it can smack you down and pull you under leaving you feeling tossed around, upside down, gasping for breath and picking out sand from areas you never knew existed,” she wrote.
I knew this feeling well in my professional sports career. I was tossed around often. In fact, these waves were blind spots that eventually derailed a professional sports career that had promise. I found myself metaphorically picking sand from areas I never knew existed (far too many times), and I didn’t understand how it was happening.
What are the blind spots in your game? Those waves you don’t see coming that leave you tossed around and falling short of your capabilities.
Right now is a great time of the year to roll up your sleeves and reflect on what happened during 2016 — and what you might do in 2017 to get more enjoyment and make some positive strides in your game. How was your hockey year? Happy with it? Wanting more?
In a reflection exercise, I highly recommend you consider your own blind spots, and what might be unconsciously holding you back from moving forward and getting more out of your game.
Blind spots damage performance
Working with world-class performers every day, I can assure you that understanding blind spots is important in performance. Almost every performer I have worked with has them, and I expect you do, too. Part of my job is to help these world-class performers identify their blind spots, making sure they have a clear view of what’s beneath their awareness and might therefore be holding them back.
Let’s highlight the idea of blind spots by using my own professional sports career (professional golf) as an example. This may help you start thinking about your own blind spots and get the wheels turning. I had a few tendencies that were constantly beneath my awareness that kept me on the treadmill and not striding forward on a steady, consistent career path.
A few examples:
Focusing too much time on the long game in golf, obsessing about it and not allocating more effort to the game from 100 yards and in from the green. I neglected to keep the object of the game in mind (shooting the lowest score possible!).
Failing to develop my self-awareness. I had limited awareness how my emotions were knocking me around and creating a blurry focus, especially under the pressures of professional golf.
Not fully understanding the critical impact of others’ expectations on my day-to-day performance.
No clear path forward. I did not have a well-defined vision or detailed steps in place to guide day-to-day progress and development.
You can imagine how these blind spots could make sustainable progress in my career difficult. Each of the areas above needed attention in order for me to have a better opportunity to reach new levels.
What are your hockey blind spots?
What is holding you back that may be beneath your awareness? In the next short while, I encourage you to think about your own blind spots, and also consider some feedback from others who may know your game. Chances are an honest assessment of your blind spots, and some outside feedback, will shed some light on the factors that are limiting you.
To help you further, here are a few, common hockey blind spots that I have seen in players I work with at a variety of levels. Could any of these apply to you?
Always having to be coached and not putting time in on your own to develop your skills – individual training and skill development is a key to excellence.
Getting far too caught up in the technical aspect of the game and neglecting the creative component.
Allowing small dips in performance to greatly impact your confidence.
Not having the discipline to work on weaknesses – working on strengths is fine but weaknesses need to be developed so they don’t limit you.
Effort in practice is nowhere near effort in games – when effort in practice should be higher than games.
Having trouble taking your game from the practice ice to the game ice and not understanding why.
Losing focus over small mistakes and not being able to get it back on track the rest of the game.
It’s either perfect or nothing – you insist on perfection and are never happy with your performance.
Not enjoying the game as much as you should and not knowing why.
These ideas should help you get started on your own assessment. What might be holding you back that you are not aware of? Take some time to think about it in the the next while. Reflection is an important characteristic in high performers and a key to improvement. Identifying your blind spots is a great first step in understanding what may be holding you back in your game on the ice.
Some keys to help you become a more confident player
Every night in the NHL, you’ll see fantastic displays of skill – players trying things in the middle of games, taking calculated risk and using their great abilities. Recently, I attended a game in Ottawa – the Chicago BlackHawks visited the Ottawa Senators and Patrick Kane put on a confidence clinic – trying things in the game that other players may not think about. And, it paid off for Patrick as he dominated the game and put on a great show for the fans. On one play, Patrick picked up the puck at his own blue line, skated through several players in the neutral zone, cut down low in the offensive zone, skated behind the net and sent a no-look pass to his line-mate in front of the net – who easily tapped it past Ottawa net-minder, Craig Anderson. It was an impressive display of talent and the belief in the talent to dominate the puck and use his abilities to help his team win.
How can you learn from Patrick’s confidence and make yourself a better player?
One of the key areas I work on with any athlete including hockey players at all levels – is confidence. Understanding it and building it. Confidence is a player’s bullet-proof vest. It is for Patrick Kane and it can be for you.
What is Confidence?
Well… it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions… and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.
You know the feeling of confidence… you’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing and you know you can do it.
You also know the other feeling… you just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing and you’re not quite sure.
“I’ve Lost My Confidence.”
When my phone rings, players or agents on the other end, voice panicked, it’s often them telling me the player has “lost their confidence”. If it’s a hockey player, the player is struggling to perform when it counts, has lost the scoring touch or maybe gripping the stick too tight.
I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in elite leagues in the world and have risen to the top in hockey. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the spiral downwards begins from there.
And, this is where players get confused. Confidence requires some understanding – and some work. Sports and life is about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/ emotional game is like your physical practice (skating, passing, shooting etc.) – do the work and it will pay off.
Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?
So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.
And this perspective can help you.
Great players are proactive with their confidence. When Patrick Kane or other dominant players are playing well, you can be sure they remind themselves that they have done it before and they have built the foundation at all levels since they were young players to handle any situation at the level they are playing at – including the NHL. Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many), all the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others. This is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a hockey player. Proactive confidence is a choice that you are relying on a solid foundation and are sustainably confident. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.
On the other hand…
Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive Confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances/ difficulties will overcome your successes/ support and crack your hockey “foundation”. In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures. I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Hockey players also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way – coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I see this everyday – even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears and a few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done – there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take full responsibility for their confidence – knowing they have control over it.
This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.
Building Your Confidence
It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation.
What can you do to work on your confidence and build it?
Preparation – “build it and it will come” – it is a secure feeling skating around in the warm-up knowing you’ve put the work and effort in – in each part of your game – to deal with the situations you’ll have on the ice. Make your practice functional – related to the situations you’ll need on the ice. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation”.
Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand vs. something you don’t. Know yourself well in order to understand what you can and can’t do when it counts.
Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the steps in place to get there – there is a sense of security that you are on the right track. Knowing exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there builds confidence.
Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities. Be your own best friend and speak to yourself well.
Focus on your good shifts, not the bad ones. You’ll have good shifts and not so good ones in a game. Evaluate why poor shifts don’t go well after the game – but focus on your great shifts during the game and build on the energy from the good shifts.
Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Get a little better each day through disciplined work in practice. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.
Finally – have fun! Great players enjoy themselves on the ice and love the game. When you enjoy something, you usually do it well.
What is one of the key things you can do to be a better hockey player?
Build your confidence.
Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a player, but, this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life – business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in. Consider it an investment in your future. Confidence may be the single greatest asset for you as a hockey player.
If you are a hockey player, you know that overthinking on the ice causes problems. Too many thoughts lead to hesitation, confusion and a lack of uncertainty in your abilities on the ice.
So, I’d like to introduce you to a strategy that might help you get into a nice playing frame of mind. The strategy was initially developed by my friends Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott – world-class golf coaches – using the Think Box and Play Box with leading professional golfers. For you, the Think Box and Play Box is a practical approach for your hockey routine to help you use your thinking brain to your advantage, introduce you to your “supercomputer” and let all of your training, coaching and experience do the work and allow you play the way you are capable of – using your well-developed instincts.
In all of the work I do with some of the world’s leading athletes, including professional players in the NHL, we’re always working toward the idea of “just playing” or “just play”. Take out the interference, narrow the focus and allow talent, coaching and training to hit its mark.
The Supercomputer and the Calculator
You see, you want one of the world’s most complex supercomputers, your subconscious mind, to run the show when you play. This supercomputer contains everything about you, your experiences, your memories and can do a million things at once. It seamlessly runs all of your body’s systems and functions beneath your consciousness. For perspective, it is estimated it is 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious thinking brain.
Conversely, you want the calculator, your thinking brain or prefrontal cortex, to stay out of the way. It is slow and weak and can only process a small amount of information at one time. The tendency for athletes is to overload this thinking brain with so many thoughts that you hesitate, get confused and don’t allow the supercomputer to run the show. This is what you commonly know as overthinking. In high performance, when many things are happening at once and the landscape is constantly shifting, there is no place for slow processing – especially in a fast game like the game of hockey.
So, instead of responding to what’s in front of you on the ice with your well developed instincts and enjoying the game – your thinking brain gets in the way, you become anxious and too many thoughts in the calculator short circuit your performance…
“Why didn’t I take the shot?”
“Where should I be?”
“Should I jump in or not?”
The Think Box and the Play Box
I’d like you to consider a strategy that you can use in your game that will allow you to use your supercomputer and keep the calculator in check.
Before you jump on the ice from the bench – you will from now on be in the Think Box. In the Think Box you can consider coach suggestions, review the last shift, think about what you want to execute on the ice. You want to distill all of this down to one key thought for the thinking brain.
When your time to hit the ice arrives, immediately when you pass through the gate from the bench to the ice or jump over the boards, you are now in the “Play Box” where your supercomputer or subconscious is in charge. You are on autopilot trusting your instincts, experience and training. Once you get into the Play Box (the ice), keep one thought in the thinking brain to get things started in a positive way – and then just play and allow the subconscious to run the show. It knows what to do – trust that everything you need is there!
So, consider the Think Box and Play Box for your games. When you’re in the Think Box, getting instructions from your coach and getting ready to jump on the ice – put one, simple key thought in your thinking brain to help your shift. When you cross the line onto the ice and enter the Play Box, trust your supercomputer containing all of your training and experience to make the adjustments and run the show.
I think you’ll find that “just playing” will lead to better performance, take out the indecision and help you enjoy your game that much more.