fear

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.

3 Ways To Overcome Fear

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We all have it.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all do. How we react to it and what we do with it, is really what defines us.

It, is fear.

Fear is one of the biggest factors in regards to the mental side of hockey. We all have fear, and we all deal with it in different ways. Those that learn to channel fear and turn it into a positive are ultimately more successful than those who let fear control them.

Fear can be debilitating, yet also one's greatest motivator.

The crazy thing about fear is it is something that we create ourselves. Think about it, when you were a little kid you probably did all sorts of crazy stuff and didn’t have a care or worry in the world.

Why?

Because you didn’t know that you were potentially in danger or that you should be fearful of what you’re doing.

The same idea can be related to hockey. Fear plays a huge role into how we play hockey.

  • Fear of failure

  • Fear of not being good enough

  • Fear of losing

  • Fear of being hurt

  • Fear of letting people down

All of these thoughts have probably ran through your mind from time to time. I know they did for me when I was playing.

A great example for me now with coaching comes through summer hockey. I like to run competitive, yet fairly relaxed and fun, summer skates with current and former players. It always amazes me how good some players look during the summer. They see the ice well, make great decisions, have smooth hands, and can really put the puck wherever they want.

Then the season rolls around and those players don’t execute in quite the same way.

Why is that?

I think a huge portion of it relates back to fear.

In the summer, hockey is relatively care free. You have no pressure or fear of failure.

If you don’t win in a summer pick up game... who cares.

If you try to hit a teammate streaking through the middle and the pass gets deflected or turned over, not a big deal.

All of the little things that cause stress to a player during the season because of a certain fear are removed from how we play summer hockey. Because of that relaxed environment, players don't have that fear of failure in their minds. 

This freedom allows players to just play.

Examples like these are why it’s so important for players to harness their mental toughness and learn to use fear as a motivator and driving force and not merely as something that causes them stress and anxiety.

So how do you overcome your fears?

Take Action

It sounds simple enough, but simply taking action is helping you eliminate fear. It’s easy to say you aren’t ready to play at that level. Or it’s easy to say that you’ll start training for the next season tomorrow or next week. Those that take action are always learning. Things may not always work out the way you hope on attempt number one, but you will learn from the experience and that will make attempt number two that much better.

Think about it this way… would anyone ever get anywhere or accomplish anything if they never started?

Strive for Small Incremental Improvements

I’m a huge believer in never settling and always pushing the limits of what is possible. With that in mind, setting realistic expectations can help you achieve more and do so quicker.

Think of it this way… If your goal for the summer offseason is to gain 15 pounds of muscle, that can be daunting and overwhelming to think about (especially if you struggle to gain good weight). But, instead of thinking about it that way, you focus on your plan for gaining weight and figure that the off season is roughly four months long which really equates to at least 16 weeks. Implementing a nutrition plan, plus a training regime, then all the sudden you can look at your end goal and realize that you really only need to gain about a pound a week. Gaining one pound a week seems much more reasonable than the doubt inducing task of gaining 15 pounds before the season starts.

Learn to break down the things and make them more manageable. This will help keep you motivated and eliminate the doubt from creeping into your mind.

Remember, small incremental improvements over time lead to monumental change.

Confidence

We’ve talked a lot about building your confidence and its importance. Keep things in perspective and understand that if you want something bad enough you have to be willing to work for it. Know that things are usually never as bad as they seem and that a positive mindset can help alleviate fear. Never forget that the people you look up to and want to get on their level were once sitting in the same position as you. They simply made a decision that they were going to overcome their own inner fears and push the boundaries of what they thought was possible. If you want something, in hockey or life, be willing to fight for it and exhaust all avenues to achieve it.

Channel your fears, keep things in perspective, and most importantly, always be taking action.

Do you ever struggle with letting fear control your abilities?

Be Willing To Be Different

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It can be scary to be different.

And obviously, different, is a very subjective word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

That's all good and fair, but I really believe that being different is the only way to be great.

I think it's, unfortunately, way to common for everyone to just want to 'fit in'.

This same concept can be seen in hockey.

The best players in the world don't become that way just because of their ability.

I was listening to a podcast the other day where they were talking to Dan Bylsma and he was talking about Sidney Crosby. Everyone knows that Crosby is always in the argument for the best player in the world, but Bylsma came right out and said that Crosby isn't the most talented player in the world. Kind of a shocking statement from a guy that coached Crosby for 6 years and won a Stanley Cup with him. But, he went on to talk about how the real thing that separates Crosby from everyone else is the way he processes information and his work ethic. He said that he has never seen someone be able to process so much information in such a short period of time and then be able to go out and implement it into their game... that's what Crosby does.

He also goes on to talk about his work ethic. He gave an example where in a game there was a bounce off the wall behind the net and Crosby ended up mishandling the puck and not scoring. The next morning, he was on the ice working on the same sorts of plays and within a matter of 10 to 15 reps was as smooth and natural as ever.

Now, does Sidney Crosby need to be doing these things?

Nope... and even if he didn't he would still be one of the best players in the world.

But there in lies the difference of why he is so great. He holds himself to a higher standard. He is willing to be different and do the little things that so many other players brush off and think don't matter.

It's easy to settle, or make excuses as to why you don't need to do something. It's really hard to have the mindset of being different to make sure you get the things that you want.

This whole idea kind of goes back to the old saying, "how hard are you working when no one else is watching?"

People see the stats and the Stanley Cup rings and all the other accomplishments, but I think so many people don't realize the amount of work and sacrifice that it took to get there.

The amount of times that it took him to be different in order to carve his own path. 

That's not to say that all you have to do is work really hard everyday and you can be the next Sidney Crosby, because we all know that's not true and there are other variables that also contribute to where he is. But, I can guarantee you that if you put yourself out there and forget about what everyone else thinks you should be doing, then I guarantee you're going to be more satisfied with your results, regardless of what they may be. 

I have found this to be completely true in my own life. I've talked about how in high school I started training early in the mornings to get bigger and stronger. It was never something that I had to do, but rather, was something that I knew I needed to do in order to get where I wanted. I remember on multiple occasions going home early on a Friday night because I had a workout the next morning at 6am. It was tough leaving my friends and having them question why I was doing that stuff and think I was crazy. But, looking back at it now, it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

It's also relates a lot to this blog.

It's scary to be different and put yourself out to the world and be completely honest and transparent. Especially, when there are a lot of people who I know personally who read this blog.

It would be easy to be satisfied with where my life is and my involvement in hockey, but I have always felt, and known, that there was more that I wanted to do.

So I'm pushing my own boundaries by deciding to be different and putting everything I know out there. And so far, it's been one of the best things that I've done.

I don't bring any of this up to come from an annoying "look at me and what I'm doing" standpoint. I'm just sharing my journey in hopes that it might help you get out of your comfort zone and realize that it's a good thing to be different.

I think all to often we have the mindset of just wanting to 'fit in', or just do enough to get by. My hope is for you to realize that there is more out there than you think and it's OK to step out and take a risk for something you want. Don't let the fear control you. It's easy to talk yourself into saying something won't work, but what if you have the mindset of thinking... what if it does?

So what are you willing to do to be different that will help you get to the next level, or achieve the things that you really want?

Leave your comments below and thanks for being such a big part of my own journey.

Preparing For The Big Game

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Sweaty palms, fidgeting legs, heart pumping...

Man, I miss those feelings.

That's how I used to feel before a big game.

I never felt like it was out of nervousness, but more out of excitement. The excitement of being on the big stage with something important on the line.

Now, in a perfect world we could say that we get those feelings every game. That same rush of nerves and excitement, but the reality is, some games just carry more weight than others. That's just a fact. It doesn't matter how good you are, or what level you're playing at, some games will always feel bigger than others.

Even in the NHL, I guarantee that Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals feels a lot different than a Sunday afternoon game in Florida in the middle of January...

While the end may be close for some, or already happened, for others some of the biggest games of the season are about to take place.

I was talking with a former player that I coached the other day who is now a head coach (wow, that makes me feel old...). His team is about to play in the state semi-finals. He asked me for advice on playing in those big types of games. What they should do to prepare and be ready...

My message to him was simple: Seize the opportunity. Remember what got you there and play your game. Don't try to change and be someone that you're not. And enjoy the hell out of every minute.

 For coaches and players alike, I think this message holds true. I think way to often as coaches and players we get to a big game or a big moment and feel like we need to change what we're doing to get us over the top.

I've never looked at it that way.

I've always had the mindset of sticking to the things that have made you successful and driven you and your team to that point. That doesn't mean that you don't have to adapt and game plan for specific things that the opposing team does, but rather, that you stick to the core strengths of your team.

A better way to explain it might be that you game plan on how to defend a specific teams powerplay, but don't try and change your whole style and way of playing. If you're a team that is physical and plays heavy, play that way. Don't try to turn into a finesse team just because it's a bigger game on a bigger stage.

I think this message is important for both coaches and players. And honestly, like so many things, it can be related to real life too. Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. In the end, I guarantee you'll make it a hell of a lot farther being true to who you are then trying to be someone you're not.

I've talked a lot in this blog about making the most of opportunities. Playing in big games is just that... another opportunity. Don't let fear control you. Embrace the situation and embrace the moment and leave it all out there. I know that sounds cliche, but I think so many times we can hype big moments up in our head so much that we end up missing out on the experience and not performing how we would have hoped.

My advice for anyone about to go into a big game is to keep things in perspective, stick to the things that have made you successful, leave every ounce of yourself out there, and most importantly, enjoy the moment.

Speaking from personal experience, big games in huge moments are hard to come by. So every chance that you have at one, enjoy it and realize how fortunate you are to experience it.

Good luck to everyone about to play in one of those big games...