In this article for parents and players, a former NHL player and player development expert, discusses how players can improve their mental toughness and perform consistently at a higher level.
This is a message on mental toughness. When you reach a particular level in hockey, you will realize that mental toughness will set you apart from your competition. Two players can have the same skills and speed, but it is their mental state, which enables one player to be great, while the other is ordinary.
Hockey is truly a game of mistakes. Even the superstars make them. The key is learning to overcome those mistakes quickly to succeed. Successful players know how to get their head right back into the game - I mean immediately in the very next shift! Young players need to develop this aspect of their game just as much as they develop skating, shooting, checking, and team building skills. Learn this now!
Here are a few concepts that will help you develop your mental game:
Take note of your favorite NHL Player. He will make mistakes during the course of a game; but they go by practically unnoticed because he doesn’t go into a shell, get down, feel sorry for himself, throw a temper tantrum, bang his stick, or take frustrations out on a fellow teammate. Never show your opponent you’re frustrated or weak!
Tune out negative situations around you and turn them into positives. Example: If you get beat 1 on 1 or have a bad give-away, don’t get down on yourself. It’s now history; - focus on the present. Quickly get yourself and your head back into the game with a good hit, a shot on goal, or just beat your opponent down the ice and work hard. Do anything positive – no matter how small. You will regain confidence.
Make a list of your responsibilities as a hockey player. Think about them before every game. During the game don’t think, - REACT! Example: If you are a defenseman, write down your duties in all three zones, power play and penalty kill. Move the puck quickly, stick between the legs, play the man, box your opponent out, hit the net every shot, head on a swivel, communication, control gap, how to play a 1v1, 2v1, 3v2 etc. …And so on. I had a 2-page list that I carried in my wallet for my entire 10 year pro career. I pulled out that list before each and every game and went over everything, so that it was all in fresh mental storage. If it’s in mental storage and you’ve already thought it through before game time, then it will come to you naturally during the game. Once the game begins you don’t want to think - just REACT!
Take 10 - 15 minutes before each game for “alone time”. Go over your responsibilities, almost like saying your prayers. Go tape your stick by yourself, -visualize all positive thoughts. Example: Picture yourself scoring the winning goal, having a big hit, a great assist, hugging your teammates in victory. These are all positive thoughts that will put you in the frame of mind to be a winner.
Tailor make a catch phrase to say to you in time of trouble. Example: “Keep it Simple” - and my favorite, “Move Mountain”.
When game time comes, - you should come out for warm-ups hard and ready to compete. This is NOT the time to be social or screw around with teammates. Get a good handle on the puck, make some hard passes, stretch out, and get your legs going with some hard sprints.
On your first shift do something, - anything to get yourself into the game quickly. I’d to make a crisp hard pass, give a big hit, or even get hit by my opponent to wake me up and motivate me. The first couple of shifts usually dictate the rest of the game.