With hockey being so fast and unpredictable, it’s only natural to endlessly evaluate your play. You kick yourself between shifts, your coach whispers/yells at you between periods, you lose sleep tossing and turning after the game and then the dreaded video session highlights your play in front of the whole team. In this day and age with parents, coaches, video, agents, scouts, etc., holding you accountable for your play, it’s hard not to work yourself up into a bite-sized mental breakdown after a game.
Of course you learn from your mistakes—and you need to be held accountable for the team to win—but there’s a difference between what good players and great players replay in their mind. In my opinion, 95 percent of players (myself included) think about the open net they missed, a failed defensive assignment resulting in a goal, a buddy pass that got their teammate rocked, a poor decision on a 2-on-1 and on and on. The list of mistakes and failures I experienced in my playing days is literally endless. It covers the entire spectrum from “why am I beating myself up over something so small” to “the entire team hates me for that game changer.”
The problem is that thinking about these mistakes makes you hide and shrink your game. The mistakes I’ve talked about here are specific situations. No matter how headstrong or confident you are, this pattern of thought can only lead to your brain continually replaying and magnifying the negative action. Trust me, you can’t control it.
Think Differently: Missed Opportunities, Not Mistakes
Great players replay the game in their mind a bit differently. They essentially see missed opportunities. They ask themselves self-reflective questions such as:
– Why didn’t I drive the net hard for that rebound in the first period?
– Why didn’t I gain the zone on the power play instead of dumping it in?
– Why didn’t I play more physical and take away my man’s stick down low?
– Why didn’t I get rid of the puck quicker because of forechecking pressure?
– Why didn’t I have a more aggressive gap against their top line?
It’s way bigger thinking in a fluid situation. Your brain—consciously and subconsciously—can then try to find ways to improve when faced with a similar play.
Push Your Game, Don’t Shrink It
It’s way more productive to push your game then to shrink it. We respond to what we keep track of and think about. You all have the skill to be playing at the level you’re playing at or the coach wouldn’t put you on the ice. Why not make this subtle change in your thinking to expand your game rather than mental beat-down sessions that constrict it. As the saying goes, a boat is safe in the harbor but was made for the open ocean. You can play a safe “off the boards and out” game, but puck possession and skill are key. This is how you were made to play and it separates you from the pack and helps your team win games.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Brett Henning of Score100Goals.com for this story. Henning is the author of 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players, and was a member of the Inaugural National Team Development Program and 2000 World Junior Team with USA Hockey. He played Junior Hockey in Canada and at the collegiate level for the University of Notre Dame. He was drafted by the New York Islanders before a back injury ended his on-ice career.
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