Vince Lombardi once said, “Mental toughness is spartanism with qualities of sacrifice, self-denial, dedication. It is fearlessness, and it is love.” If you ask me, Lombardi has defined what it takes to be a top competitor in any arena. But what is mental toughness, really?
We’ve all heard that champions are made in the off season. It’s the time of year for an athlete to get gritty and really distinguish him or herself from the pack. The off season is when boys become men and good hockey players can become great hockey players. A lot of the time, however, the most important aspect of a players’ game – the game that happens between their ears – is overlooked if not completely ignored.
In sports psychology, professionals will focus on teaching players mental skills that allow them to control their response to the different aspect of a game. This ranges from improving how a player rebounds from a less than stellar shift, season, or game, to setting goals, to refocusing in the middle of play. As the saying goes, rule your mind or it’ll rule you. Here are five ways to train your mental toughness – all you need is a little bit of focus. Want to know how to elevate your game from the couch? Welcome to your initiation into what it takes to be hockey tough.
Managing Negative Thoughts
Think of your brain like a TV. It’s got all kinds of channels, with some volume control, depending on the model, and it never, ever , turns off. Lucky for you, you hold the remote, and therefore the power to change the channel. If what’s on your channel doesn’t make you feel good, powerful, or elevate your game. Being tough is about your ability to stay on the power channel, even when everyone around you is negative.
The most important thing to take away from this section is that negative feelings lead to negative thoughts. For example, feeling afraid to fail translates into thinking don’t screw this up. Instead, change “don’t screw this up” to “dominate” or “make it happen”. Focus and feelings are what will drive a positive or negative performance. It’s up to you to change the channel.
Setting the Right Kind of Goals
It is a well-known fact that writing down your goals increases the likelihood of success by more than 30%. Look at it this way, if you do nothing else except write them down on a piece of paper, you’re looking at almost a third of a chance of success. In a game of inches like hockey, thirty percent is huge.
It’s not just about having goals, however, it’s about having the right kind of goals. They need to be attainable, have a strict time container, and they need to be realistic for your lifestyle. Goals can provide you with the perspective and drive necessary to get the work done. They’re your binoculars into what your future success may look like.
Set three types of goals. A long-term goal for what you want your career to ultimately land. These need to be meaningful to you. Don’t be afraid to dream big! Set an intermediate goal for the season – define what you want to do in terms of scoring, plus-minus, and team dynamic. Then determine exactly what action steps you need to do in order to achieve those goals. For example, if you want to be more effective in the slot, you are going to have to work on your conditioning outside of practice, be more conscious of jumping in early, playing heads up and shooting hard and accurately. Finally, set a goal for each practice and game. It’ll keep you focused and thinking towards your long term goals.
Learn your ABCs
The ultimate way you’re going to elevate your game is by keeping your channel on power thoughts only. The way you do this is with a strategy that is clear, concise and effective. For example, keep your head up and feet moving. Being clear about what you want to do on the ice is how you can reset when you’re up a creek without a paddle. A way that I like to do this is by learning my ABCs.
These are three specific things you can do to define your job on the ice and how you can be the most effective. My ABCs are (A) head up, (B) feet moving, and (C) finish strong. You can customize yours to your game. Remember, these can be fluid and change every game, or you can stick to the same three all season long.
If you’d like to learn more about being mentally tough, I recommend purchasing Hockey Tough by Saul L. Miller. His book has the most valuable knowledge on the game of hockey and how to rule your mind. In closing, just know that your body can withstand almost anything. It is your mind that needs convincing.