Fear And Loathing In Las Hockeyville
The Mental And Psychological Part Of The Game
The mental and psychological aspects of an athletes comportment has become an important part of preparation in the modern sports world. In more recent time, this has been studied and better understood and there is hardly a professional athlete today who does not receive coaching in this important area.
You hear athletes refer to being in the zone or being in the moment while in the action of the game and being free from and fear or self doubt.
I want to deal with what I believe is the most important area of the mental side of sports and that is the crippling effects of fear. In this part I’m not dealing with physical fear (the fear of being hit and having and injury in hockey) but the other aspects of fear.
I have spent a great many hours in an arena as a coach and then countless more hours on the ice involved in the teaching and training of individual skills to hockey players. Most of my time in training hockey players was spent with young kids, however I was also fortunate enough to work with a number of first round NHL draft picks and highly successful NHL players.
Over the years I’ve become more and more aware of the effects of fear in the performance of the hockey player athlete.
To categorize the aspects of fear that I’m talking about it would involve the following; the fear of making a mistake and looking stupid and the fear of letting someone down.
For Hockey Coaches
Trust me, no player wants to make a mistake that costs a goal and let his team mates down. It’s pretty much a guarantee that if you berate a player for a mistake, you increase the chance that the player will get scared crapless and make even more mistakes.
I’ve watched players playing with fear during a a game and it was easy to imagine the “thought bubble” above their heads a one would see in a cartoon comic book. These are players that are afraid and thinking about what they should do. But guess what? …. they’re already screwed …. the game is unfolding so fast that there is no time for thinking about what to do. The play of the game requires instantaneous reactions; not analysis and thinking about what to do. That will just not work.
Coaches should put players in an environment where they can play without the fear of being berated for making a mistake. We don’t want them to make mistakes and mistakes should be pointed out; however, need to understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process.
As a coach you’re supposed to be a teacher. Point out and explain mistakes and then explain and teach the correct actions or choices.
For Hockey Parents
Every normal hockey parent wants their children to be successful, however I am constantly amazed at how parents often instinctively do the wrong thing and in fact hinder the success of their children.
Trust me; there is not a child out there that does not want to please their parents. They sense the enthusiasm and passion of their parents in relation to their sporting endeavors and all they want to do is please Mom and Dad.
First advice is to read the section above for coaches.
Second, it’s not just in the play of the game, it’s also about effort and performance in practices and at hockey school sessions. The same fear of making a mistake and looking foolish takes hold here as well. I’ve seen many kids give up on doing a new and difficult maneuver because of this fear. Once again they need to understand making mistakes or not getting it perfect is part of the learning process. Additionally, to progress in skill they should understand the need to push their limits in practice and risk failure as a pathway to getting better.
It’s OK to expect a solid effort for the commitment of time and money to an endeavor; just don’t crap on them for making honest mistakes.
I’m not sure what the next topic will be. I’m waiting to struck by the muse, but it may be titled “Does Size Matter?”
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