3 Ways To Work Through A Slump

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When most people hear slump, they think about a scoring slump.

And rightfully so, as that’s what gets talked about the most. And that’s also easiest to measure. I mean if you haven’t scored a goal in six games, it’s pretty easy to measure that and call that a slump.

But slumps come in all shapes and sizes.

Teams slump by being inconsistent and losing games or just not clicking the way they know they can. Goalies get in slumps and fight the puck. And even players, whose job is not solely based around points, get into slumps with their play and decision making.

So how do you work through that as a player?

I think there are a lot of different approaches that players and teams can go through to get over a slump, but here are a few things that have always worked for me.

  1. Simply The Game - As I have said numerous time on here, at its core, hockey is a simple game. Trying to complicate it usually only leads to frustration. So instead of trying to make that extra stickhandle, shoot the puck. Or instead of trying to make that extra move, get the redline and dump the puck to a spot that your team has a chance to get it. I’m a huge believer that players should, and need, to be creative on the ice. I think that’s the way the game was meant to be played. However, when you simplify the game, you’re getting back to your foundation. For most players, when you get back to your foundation, and keeping the game simple, you’re allowing yourself more opportunities for continuous success. And confidence is built through success.

  2. Focus On Building Your Confidence - While I think we should be working on our confidence everyday (hockey player or not). It’s even more important when you’re battling through a slump. Slumps create doubt and put fear in the foreground of your mind. So how do you combat this? Start by finding small moments of success and continuously building upon those. In other words, instead of focusing solely on scoring a goal, find success in making a tape to tape pass, or winning a one on one battle on the wall, or having an active stick and deflecting a pass. If you can have the mindset to focus on those little instances of success, you’ll soon find that your confidence should continue to grow. Small instances of success can lead to a gigantic growth in confidence.

  3. Communication - While this may seem a bit odd, I think it makes a huge difference. When things aren’t going the way we want, the easy thing to do is shut down, stay quiet, and simply hope things turn around. Communication is vital all the time in hockey, but especially when things aren’t going well. Think about it, how much easier is it to play hockey when your teammates have great communication? WAY EASIER. I always loved playing with guys that talked a lot, and the truth is that the game is way too fast to not be helping each other out. That little heads up from your goalie or D partner can be the difference between you getting buried in the corner or you making a quick smart decision. Like I said above, one of the problems with slumps is that we start to think too much, and instead, need to simplify the game. Communicating does this, it simplifies the game. It makes decisions easier and gives you the feeling of support as a player. Plus, the added bonus to the whole thing is that it not only helps your game but also helps your teammates.

While I’m sure there are other tips and tricks out there to help you work through a slump, these three things all follow my big rule of focusing on things that are in your control. And all three of the items listed above are in your power to control.

You can simplify the way you play, you can focus on building your confidence, and you can definitely control how much you communicate on the ice, on the bench, and in the locker room.

The last piece I will leave you with is that you have to understand that slumps are part of the game. It doesn’t mean that you have to like it, but you have to know that it’s part of the process and everyone goes through it at one point or another.

Don’t stop believing in yourself and your abilities and make sure you remember what it is that has made you successful as a player. So dig in, work hard, and break through that slump.

How To Bounce Back From A Bad Shift

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Have you ever had a bad shift in a hockey game?

Of course you have.

We all have.

What do you do to bounce back from it and be ready for the next one?

Regardless of what happened, it could have been a missed pass for an easy goal, or maybe you got walked on a 1 on 1 and the guy scored, or you didn’t control the rebound and it led to an easy tap in goal, we’ve all been there.

I know from personal experience that there’s no worse feeling then skating back to the bench knowing that your mistake cost your team a goal.

But the reality is that it happens to everyone.

Even the best in the world have shifts where they make mistakes that ultimately leads to the puck ending up in their own net, or not in the opposing teams net.

How you respond to those situations, and approach each shift in general, is really what makes the difference.

I’m sure you’ve heard people in hockey, and other sports, talk about being even keel.

Never too high and never too low.

And it’s true, the best players are able to control their emotions and take the good with the bad and know that they’re only as good as their next shift and that’s where their focus needs to be.

So that leads to the question of how do you become more consistent shift after shift?

While trying to stay even keel, never too high and never too low, is great in theory, it doesn’t exactly help with the process of actually doing that during the game.

One thing that worked for me as a player, and has helped numerous other players that I have played with, coached, and instructed is something I call mental reminders.

A mental reminder is a word or phrase that acts as a trigger for your mind. When you see that word, or phrase, it instantly reminds you that you need to focus on the things that you can control and that make your game successful.

I like to use the example of a former teammate who used to write “FTB” (meaning For The Boys) on the handle of each one of his sticks.

When I asked him about it, he said that one thing he always struggled with as a player was that if he felt like things weren’t going well he would try and do it all himself. It wasn’t that he was a bad teammate, in fact, he cared so much that he wanted to do things himself to try and lift his teammates back up. We all know (at least I hope) that trying to do it all yourself isn’t the answer.

So he used the “FTB” as his mental reminder that he was there “for the boys” and that he needed to trust them and work with them to get things back on track.

That was his trigger word and what worked best for him.

Now obviously everyone is different, and each player should come up with something that works specifically for them and helps trigger the right mind frame.

A few other examples that I know have worked for people are:

  • SKATE - used by a former player who knew that if his feet were moving he was making smart decisions and good plays. (And I’m assuming, as you can see from the picture above, SKATE is also used by Dylan Larkin.)

  • BELIEVE - this player used that to remind himself to believe in himself and trust his abilities.

  • TRUST - this player used TRUST to remind himself to trust the process and not get frustrated if everything didn’t go his way all the time. Also, to trust his teammates and know they have his back.

  • NO FEAR - this player was small in stature but wanted to make sure he never played that way. He used this reminder as a way to play ‘big’ and not be scared of playing against bigger players.

Like I said, there are an infinite number of possibilities. And as a player, you need to figure out what is going to work best for you.

I encourage anyone who uses this to put it in a place that has easy access and you’ll see it between every shift. So someplace like the handle of your stick, the inside cuff of your glove, or even the cuff of your jersey sleeve.

That way, every time you come off the ice after a shift you’ll see your reminder. Then you can take 10 seconds or so to refocus yourself and clear your head and be ready for your next shift.

I found this to be incredibly useful as a player.

Whether things went good or bad in the shift before, it was a way to clear my head and get refocused on the game.

Like I talk about all the time, consistency is one of the most valuable assets you can have as a player.

This is another tool that you can add to your game that will help you do that.

And remember, every shift is a new opportunity to do something positive for your team. Make sure you’re ready for it.

What You Should Focus On

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Personally, I'm not a huge social media person. I have all the accounts and use them occasionally, but it's usually for finding up to date information rather than post about myself. 

This is especially true for Twitter, for me. It's a great way to follow other coaches, learn from them, and stay up to date on highlights and other current events going on in the world. 

I came across a post a few weeks back that perfectly summed up my beliefs and a lot of what I talk about on this blog, focusing only on things that you can control. 

The picture above sums this up perfectly. 

It's almost like a two step process you should be asking yourself when thinking about things.

1. Does it matter?

2. Can you have any control over it?

If you can answer "YES" to both of those questions then it's worth your time, effort, and energy. 

On the flip side, if you answer "NO" to either one of those questions, then stop wasting your energy.

I see this a lot in hockey these days. Players get so caught up in so many different things and worrying about so many different things that they lose focus of what really matters. 

Ice time is the first example that immediately comes to mind for this. 

The reality is that if you're playing, and you're competitive, that you probably want more ice time. Even the guys that are on the top line and play a ton have thoughts about how they think they should get an additional shift or two. Trust me, I've been there as a player too... 

With that being said, if we use the diagram and ask ourselves the questions above that should help us come to an answer:

Does it matter? Yes

Do we have control over it? No

So that should lead us to the conclusion that you need to stop wasting so much energy thinking about how you're being short shifted and focus on the things that you can control. 

Now, I know that there are probably people that disagree with that last paragraph and would say that as a player you do control your ice time. 

In a sense you're right, in that most decisions about ice time are earned based on merit. In other words, if you play really well, have a good attitude, are a good teammate, are effective, and are producing for your team you're probably going to play more. 

I would agree with that. However, you still don't have complete control over your shifts and your ice time. That's your coaches job. 

You may be lighting it up and having a great game, but your coach might like a specific match up later in the game and decide to use someone else for a particular situation. Ultimately, it's your coaches responsibility to do what they feel is best for your team. 

Like I said earlier, this is just an example that I see all the time as a coach. 

In my experience, the best players are the ones that are able to identify the things that really matter and focus all their energy into that. 

Use the simple process outlined in the picture above and watch yourself become a more consistent player. 

The Truth About Confidence

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Confidence is another one of those terms we hear about all the time in hockey.

And rightfully so. 

It's absolutely vital for players and teams to have it in order to be successful. I mean it makes sense, if you're playing well you're playing with confidence, and on the flip side, if you're struggling you're probably lacking confidence. 

While none of that is earth shattering to any of you, there is one thing that really amazes me about people and their confidence and the way they think about it. 

Confidence, at its core, is solely individual based. 

In other words, no one can give you confidence.

As a coach, I can sit and talk with a player everyday and tell them how great I think they are, but unless they actually believe it, they won't be confident.

That doesn't mean that exterior factors (like a supportive coach) don't play into the overall building of confidence, because they do. But at the end of the day, it comes down to you as the individual to believe in yourself and your abilities. 

To back track for a minute, the exterior factors that I'm referring to are having a positive and healthy support system surrounding you. That can include teammates, coaches, family, and friends. You need people in your life who have your back and are there to support you through the good and the bad. These things help build confidence. But, just to clarify again...these things are there to help build confidence, but aren't the ultimate reason you're confident.

You are confident because you know it and believe it deep down in your heart and mind.

So what's one thing you can do today to help build your confidence?

Focus on the small successes.

To often, we only focus on huge massive victories as the only real measures of success. Now, while these are absolutely beneficial to becoming more confident, they aren't sustainable enough to help us build our confidence everyday. 

Another way to think about it is that we can't win a state championship everyday...it's just not possible. 

However, we can (and we should) be working on our confidence everyday. 

It's amazing how much of a difference focusing on small things can help build your confidence up everyday. 

Things like blocking a shot, making a tape to tape pass, winning a 1 on 1 battle, taking a hit to make a play, having an active stick and breaking up a scoring opportunity... the list can go on and on but I hope this gives you a glimpse of what I'm talking about. 

Personally, I started to figure out this concept as I was getting out of high school. I used to be like most players where I solely based my 'did I play good or bad' on if I scored a goal or not. Man was that counterproductive...

I think the real turning point for me was when I got to Culver. We won a close game 3-2 where I scored a couple goals, including the game winner with only a few minutes left in the third period. 

I ended up having a conversation with our coach about the game the next day. He told me he thought I played really well. My initial gut reaction was that I agreed with him but I figured he said that just because I scored a couple goals.

But the more we talked, he never talked about either goal once. 

Instead, he talked about what he thought was a big turning point was when we were short handed late in the second period and I had a big shot block. To be honest, I had forgotten about the play until he brought it up. 

His second point that he brought up was another play that to most casual observers was lost in the mix. He talked about how on the backcheck on a play in the third period I read the play well and picked up their late third guy joining the rush and prevented him from being a scoring threat. 

Kind of crazy to think about, but those were the two things that stood out to him that I had played a good game. 

Needless to say, that conversation made an impact on the way I thought about the game, doing my job, and success in general. (I mean that conversation was 14 years ago and I still remember it...)

My perspective began to change on what was really important and what it really meant to contribute. In turn, my confidence continued to grow.

The more I started to focus on the small successes the more confident I became. Not only did it help me find more success on a consistent basis, it helped eliminate the roller coaster of emotion that sometimes plagues players who only focus on numbers. 

I really started to realize that being a good player, and more importantly a confident player, meant doing a lot more things than scoring goals. 

Once my thought process changed, it became easier to find positive things to focus on which in turn helped my confidence grow everyday. 

Hockey and life is all about making progress. If you can get 1% more confident everyday, I guarantee you'll start to notice a huge difference in your game.

So I am putting the challenge out there to all of you to start finding small little victories in everything you do...everyday. Do this in hockey and in life and your confidence will continue to grow. 

Do any of you currently do anything like this to help build your confidence?

Let me know in the comments below.

3 Ways To Prove You're A Good Teammate

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Being a great teammate is an absolutely vital part of being a hockey player.

For all the coaches out there, I'm sure you've all stressed the importance of being a great teammate to your players. 

But, how many of us can honestly say that we have an entire team of great teammates?

Sadly, probably not many of us. 

With that being said, it is possible, and when it happens the results are amazing. In fact, I'm a big believer that having great teammates is often the deciding factor for the best teams. In other words, the teams that win championships are usually the teams that are filled with the best teammates. And, I'd even go as far to say that I believe this to be true even up through the highest levels of hockey. 

For me as a coach, there are three things that I look for in a player that shows what kind of teammate they are. 

I say shows because have you ever talked with a player who admitted they were a bad teammate? I've been around the game a long time as a player and coach and I'm yet to come across one... If you ask any player if they're a good teammate, they're all going to say that they are. So for me, the proof is in their actions. 

1. Do They Block Shots?

Maybe not what most of you were expecting for the first thing that I look for as a coach, but it's true. Blocking shots is simply hockey courage. It's willing to sacrifice your body for the rest of the group. It's potentially putting yourself, and your body, at risk for the betterment of the other 19 guys on the team. To me, it's the ultimate way to show your teammates how much you care. 

Besides scoring a goal, what do teams get most excited for on the bench during the game? A huge shot block. From a players perspective, it's a way to prove to your teammates that you're laying it all on the line. You'd be hard pressed to find a guy who's constantly sacrificing his body, day in and day out, that isn't highly respected by this teammates. 

On the flip side, think of how you feel when a teammate flamingos a shot, or is intentionally just a little too slow to try and get out to block that shot from the point... As a player, we all start to question where the commitment to the team really is. 

I can guarantee you this, the pain you feel from blocking a shot will never be as bad as the feeling of skating back to the bench after you had a chance to block a shot and didn't and the other team scored. 

Part of being a great teammate is putting the team first, and one of the best ways to show that is to 'eat' a few pucks from time to time. 

2. How Do You Celebrate On The Bench When A Teammate Scores?

As a coach, it's always one of the most interesting things to observe on the bench. How do guys on the bench react when your team scores?

Some of you might be surprised by this point, but if you've been around the game for a long time, and coached before, you know what I'm talking about. 

It almost seems like a crazy notion because we all naturally think that if our team scores we all should be excited and celebrate. If only that was true...

Great teammates celebrate every goal for there team. And you can tell it's a genuine excitement for the team. Because let's be honest, if you're a great teammate then it doesn't matter who scores, as long as it's someone on your team. 

Guys who aren't good teammates don't get excited for other guys when they're on the bench. They may give a subtle cheer, but usually their body language tells the real story. It's usually either a why wasn't that me or a if coach gave me that ice time I could score too... or it's something along the lines of man that was such a lucky play. 

The reality is, if you're a great teammate you don't care if it's a dangle, a rebound garbage goal, or luck. You're just excited that your team found a way to get one home. 

Once again, this is another one of those instances where body language tells a huge story. It's not only about saying the right things, but it's more about showing the right things. 

3. How Do You Respond When A Teammate Makes A Mistake On The Ice?

What's your first response when you see your teammate turn the puck over?

Are you the teammate that instantly is saying "COME ON..."or "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Or, are you that teammate who is looking around at the rest of the guys saying "we're alright" or "we'll get it back"; or at the next whistle skating over to that teammate and giving him a tap on the shin pads and saying "we're good, shake it off"?

When you read it that way, it's pretty easy to decipher who's a good teammate and who isn't. 

And now I'm sure that someone is going to comment or bring up the fact that some players only react the first way because they are competitive and care so much. 

To me, that answer (or shall I say excuse) is crap. Just because you are competitive and like to win doesn't give you the right to be a bad teammate. In fact, if that's how you react you're only hurting your team, not helping. 

If you're a good teammate, you realize that no one is perfect and mistakes happen. Hockey is a game built on mistakes. The team that can stick together through those mistakes, and pick each other up, is usually the team that will end up winning. 

What do you think of that list? Do you agree, or disagree?

These are just three different, or unusual, things that I look at as a coach that helps me understand who's a good teammate and who isn't. 

The other cool part to all three of these things (and that follows a trend we've been talking about in this blog) is that they take no talent to do.

I'll admit that blocking shots is definitely an art form, but the reality is that the biggest component to being great at blocking shots is simply having the hockey courage to throw your body in front of pucks and do whatever it takes for the team. 

But the truth is that all three of these points are a choice. They're a choice for each player to make. And the thing that I like most is that they are instantaneous. They aren't just asking someone a question and giving them the opportunity to make sure they say the 'right thing'. But rather, they are a gut reaction. They show the true colors and character of the individual. 

So after reading this, are you a great teammate?

The Truth About Tryouts

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What can I say about tryouts other than they suck.

They suck for players, they suck for coaches...really they suck for anyone who has a vested interest in the team or player.

While on one hand it’s exciting because it’s the fresh start of a season, the actual tryout portion has always sucked.

As a player, it’s stressful.

There’s always that thought in the back of your mind of wondering what coaches are thinking and also trying to wonder where you fit in, if at all, with a team.

While I used to think tryouts were stressful as a player, they are even more stressful as a coach.

Regardless of what you think, or what some people say, it’s never easy to cut kids.

There’s also so much more that goes into tryouts besides judging someone’s ability or talent. For me, it’s always a constant battle to find the right players to fill the roles needed to have a successful team.

There really is no better way to say it then to quote Herb Brooks...”it’s not about picking the best players, it’s about picking the right ones.”

In other words, you don’t build a good hockey team with 20 guys that can score goals. You need all facets of the game covered. You obviously need skilled players, but you also need guys to play defense, kill penalties, be physical...and the list goes on.

There also needs to be the team dynamic.

Successful teams have a bond that is often hard to explain. It’s not that they always get along with each other, but I think the difference is that there’s a mutual respect amongst the players and a commitment to the same end goal. And each player is truly genuine in these feelings.

We all know that it’s one thing to say it but it’s another thing to say it, believe it, and actually do it.

With all that being said, I’ve always tried to keep the same perspective. Put the needs of the team ahead of the individual and don’t stress about trying to please everyone.

Trying to please everyone is a recipe for disaster. No matter what happens, someone’s always unhappy.

So for players, my advice for tryouts is to go in with the attitude of controlling what you can control. These include things like your work ethic, attention to details, and playing with a little sense of desperation in your game. Also, remember everything happens for a reason. So whether you make a team or not, learn something from and become a better person through it.

For coaches, go into tryouts with an open mind and a plan of what you need to build a successful team for the long haul. Taking extra top end talent might look good in the short term but is that really the best thing for your team to be peaking and playing it’s best at the playoffs?

And at the end of the day, always trust your gut. It’s crazy to think, but nearly every time I have trusted my gut, I feel like I have made the right decision. The ones that have come back to bite me are the times I went against what my gut was telling me.

The Importance Of Understanding Your Role In Hockey

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As players get older and start playing on more competitive teams, things start to change. 

Ice time is no longer equal. 

Winning starts to be emphasized more. 

Different roles have to be filled by players in order to build a successful, and cohesive, team. 

Some people disagree with this thinking, some say they agree as long as there kid is still on the first line, and then there is the small minority who fully agrees with this reality. 

Personally, as long as it is age appropriate, I am 100% on board with this and think that being a part of a team that emphasizes those three ideas teaches a lot of valuable life lessons. 

The reality is that in the real world, life is not always fair. Someone is probably going to get a promotion or make more money than you at some point even though you think you deserve it more. 

I think that's one of the best lessons I ever learned throughout all my time in hockey. The importance of understanding your role and accepting it in order to make the group better. 

It's honestly a humbling and often difficult experience at first. 

Let's face it, we live in an often selfish, me-first, type of world these days. Sports and hockey are no different. 

Nearly everyone thinks that they should be on the first line, on the powerplay, and on the ice protecting the one goal lead late in the third. 

But the reality is, we all know that just isn't true. 

And here's the crazy part, THAT'S OK!!

We have this image in our head as hockey players that if we aren't the first line center then we aren't as good or important to our teams success. 

I'm here to tell you that is completely false. In fact, I would argue that you would have a hard time finding a really great hockey team at any level that didn't have a lot of depth, and role players, to go along with that top end talent. 

I look at some of the most successful teams I've ever coached. Those teams were recognized by outsiders because of a few of our top end offensive players, but when I look back at those teams I think about a couple of the stay at home defensemen who were so strong in our own zone and in front of our net. And I think about a few of the role players who's specialty became killing penalties and blocking shots. 

I'll be the first to admit, not the most glamorous jobs, but none the less absolutely vital to the success of our team. 

The reality is that you can't have four first line centers. You need to have that third line center who can shut down an opposing top offensive line and maybe occasionally chip in offensively. Just like you need that fourth line to be strong in the defensive zone and give you a few great shifts when the team needs it. 

I'm not saying that anyone should ever settle with their role, especially when still playing minor hockey. But, I am saying that you should embrace your role for whatever it is and make the most of it. You have to be able to look at it as doing your job and holding up your end of the bargain. 

For me, I have always related it to a wheel. Each player on the team is a different spoke on the wheel. When all 20 guys are doing their job, the wheel is strong and sturdy and rolls along smooth. When you have a few guys that aren't buying in, the wheel can still move and function, but it's not nearly as efficient. And when that road starts to get bumpy and tough, that's when that wheel will fail you. 

So whether you play every other shift or one shift a period, find a way to contribute. If you aren't getting a ton of ice time, be a great teammate. Encourage your teammates, pump them up, show them that you genuinely want them to succeed. I'm telling you that if you can learn to think this way you'll make it a hundred times further than if you don't. 

Remember that it takes all types to build a successful team. Make sure you're one of the spokes that's helping carry the weight. 

What Does It Mean To 'Buy In?'

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I feel like nearly every coach and every team, regardless of sport, talks about the importance of buying in. 

So what does it mean to buy in?

To put it simply, it means to fully engage yourself as a player to the team concepts, team goals, and, most importantly, to your teammates. 

While to most this seems like a fairly common sense ideal, and not something that is new or revolutionary to sports, there are plenty of people that will say they don't get it (trust me I dealt with a handful of parents and players that claimed just that this past year). 

Another way to look at it is this: if you don't get buy in, you won't be successful as a team. 

I would be willing to argue with anyone about that last statement.

I've been around the game for almost 30 years. In that time, I've been a part of some really good teams and some teams that really struggled. And, if I'm being honest, if you really dig down to the core of every one of those teams, the buy in is the difference. 

A team of 20 that are all focused on the same goals and are able to build a trust and respect with each other is a pretty impressive and powerful thing. Mix that in with some talent and you have a nearly unstoppable team. 

I've been lucky as a coach to win two state championships in the past few years. 

Now that a few years have passed, it's really amazing to look back on those teams and see what really sticks out about those groups. It's almost funny, because to an outsider, I would almost guarantee that they would say that they remember the talent of the players. 

But for me, I remember the leadership and the buy in from the entire team. The talent is completely secondary. And that's the honest truth (I'm not just saying that to fit this blog post...)

It's little things like remembering seniors who accepted being role players with their minutes but leaders in the locker room and off the ice. 

To me those guys were the difference makers on the team. Those were the guys where 'buying in' could be the most challenging. It would have been really easy for guys to have bad attitudes or cause problems because they were seniors and thought they should have been playing more. But they didn't. Looking back at it now, I'm amazed at their maturity and their ability to have perspective on things and truly embrace their part. 

It's funny because I still talk with a lot of those guys and not one of them ever brings up the amount of points or the ice time they got. The things they do talk about every year were the bus trips, the close games in front of a sold out arena, the funny hockey stories about things that happened over the course of that season... 

The real cool part about those teams is that even the guys that played a lot and got a lot of recognition don't reminisce about their individual success. Now that a few years have past, they remember the fun times with their teammates at the rink and at school more than an individual performance in a game. 

Now the crazy thing about buying in, is that it really takes a whole team. The old saying 'it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch' is completely true. I've seen it and I've, unfortunately, been a part of it. 

I decided to write about this topic for a couple reasons. 

First, it's another one of those questions that everyone should be asking themselves. Coaches, parents, and players a like.

Coaches have to lead and coaches have to set the ultimate example of buying in. It starts from the top and if you aren't committed and showing up everyday focused and ready to work, then your teams will follow suit. 

Parents are a support system to their athletes. Whether you realize it or not, the attitude that you have towards the coach, team, and other players is contagious to your son or daughter. If you aren't supporting and buying into the team, your son or daughter isn't going to either. 

Players are presented everyday with new and different opportunities to learn and grow as athletes and people. If you're playing hockey then you need to remember that you signed up for the ultimate team game. There will be obstacles along the way, both personal and team wise, but your attitude and 'buy in' will make the difference. Are you going to get on the boat and paddle with the team, or try to battle the waves and swim yourself? I think we all know which one will ultimately succeed... 

The second point is that this is another one of those areas that we can completely control. I've talked a lot about how we all need to focus on the things that we can control and stop wasting time and energy on the things we can't. 

You are 100% in control of your 'buy in'. 

If you remember the way that I described 'buying in' at the top, you'll notice that every one of those things is something that you can control. 

You can control whether you buy in to the team concepts, systems, and rules. 

You can control whether you buy in to the goals set forth by the team. 

And you can definitely control whether you are a great teammate. 

If you notice a trend in the things I talk about, the real important things in hockey and life, are all things that we can control. 

Can you be a good teammate? Can you be coachable? Can you put the team first? Can you show up everyday and work as hard as you can? 

If you can answer YES to those simple questions, then you understand the power of 'buying in'. And if you can't, then hockey isn't going to be a good fit. 

Enjoy the journey and 'buy in' because I guarantee you'll enjoy the ride a hell of a lot more.

The Truth About Taking Accountability

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How bad do you want to get to the next level? How bad do you want to improve?

I think a lot of us think about these sorts of things with everyday life, and I know I see it a lot with hockey.

Players talking about how they want to play at the next level, or how they want things to be different next year.

But that just naturally leads to the next question of, how are you going to do those things, and how bad do you really want it?

It's really easy to say all the right things. It's really hard to actually follow through.

I feel like I see this more and more, unfortunately. Players making these awesome statements about the things they are going to do but then not be willing to fully commit and go after it the way they need to.

I also see a lot of blaming going on when things don't work out the way that a player wants. It makes sense, we live in a society where it's easy to push blame off to others and not take accountability for our own success or failure.

But, the truth is, you have to be the one that drives yourself to success. Coaches, for example, are just another tool to help you get there, they can't be the sole motivating factor. Anyone who's truly successful at anything has to have a strong internal drive.

Ultimately, a big part of a coaches responsibility is to help push players to that next level and hold them accountable. But, the harsh reality is that your success or failure will not come down to a coach pushing you. In fact, the same can be said for anyone. You're not going to make it to where you want to be because of someone else, YOU will need to be the deciding factor.

Your success or failure will come down to how much you are willing to put in.

As the old saying goes, how hard are you working when no one is watching?

The players that can buy into that are the ones that will ultimately make it to the next level.

I know that looking back at my own career the things that I gained the most from were the things that no one knew I was doing.

Working out with my uncle on all those early mornings, shooting pucks in my driveway...those are some of the extra things that really helped develop my game and get me to where I wanted to be.

The point of this post is to not be discouraging at all. But rather, to remind you that it's really hard to get to the top, and that's ok. Be willing to take accountability for your goals and dreams and put the onus on yourself to make them happen. Don't rely on someone else to make your dreams come true. If you want something, YOU find a way to make it happen.

When your heart is in the right place and your mind is focused and strong you have the chance to make incredible things happen.

Believe in yourself and never be scared of some good, honest, hard work.

Conquer Your Hockey Fears: 6 Ways To Succeed

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I've talked about fear before on this blog and how everyone goes through it as a hockey player. How you react to it can really make a difference. I think this article by John Haime, a mental performance coach, is really worth the read. He brings up a ton of good points and has a lot of great advice to overcome those obstacles and be your best. 

 

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.” —Yoda

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 both you and the success of your team!

What is it you’re afraid of in your game?

Well, it could be many things: like the real, tangible fear of failure, making mistakes, not reaching expectations set for you, disappointing your teammates, 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 are familiar with this feeling.

When human life was about “eat or be eaten” and our ancestors were dealing with real, life threatening challenges every day, the alarm was a must-have. But for you as a rec 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, your teammates, 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 the performance you’re facing. 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 completely 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.

Ideas & Strategies That Help Conquer Your Hockey Fears

Here are 6 simple recommendations that we might use with a player that can help you deal with your fears and put them in perspective:

1. Address your fears directly. What are you afraid of and what could be the reasons? When you understand what might be causing your fear and acknowledge it, it will help you consider ideas how on to address it.

2. 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 having a feeling of gratitude about the opportunity to play and do what you love to do can fill you with positive energy and dampen those feelings of fear.

3. 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 might make a few mistakes, but being perfect doesn’t exist.”

“Pressure really gives my game meaning. This is where I want to be!

4. Confidence and constantly building it is a secret weapon to overcome fear. 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 with the team and on your own. You know you can do it, so bring the same feelings and approach to the game ice.

5. Practice mindfulness to enjoy playing 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!

6. 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 others’ 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 and every day.

The Bottom Line: If fear is holding you back from really enjoying playing 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!

John Haime is a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be their very best. He is passionate about helping others prepare, think and perform like a world-class athlete. This article appears on CrossIceHockey.com—For the Recreational Hockey Player, courtesy of HockeyShot.com.