Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Mental Game Plan - Something all Players Must Have (Post 1 of 10)

Nothing like a good plan in a bad situation.

This sentiment about having a plan comes from the character Sam Axe from the show Burn Notice. It is a popular show on USA Network that details the life of a burned spy. In every episode the burned spy, Micheal Weston, has to come up with an elaborate plan to either to bring down the bad guys or save himself, his friends, or someone in need of protection.  At the show's core is the idea that a spy has to plan and be prepared for difficult situations to execute under pressure.

Like Weston and Axe, you too need a good plan to succeed in pressure hockey games.  And, because pressure hockey games are as much mental as they are physical, players need to develop a mental game plan that will allow them to be confident, focused within their role.

So, the first thing that every hockey player must know (out of the 10 I will post in the next 5 weeks) is to have a mental game plan.

1. Have a Mental Game Plan

According to former world heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the mouth. This is true for some hockey players, but surprisingly some players have no mental game plans for how they are going to handle tough situations.

To become an elite hockey player you must know what triggers poor performances, a lack of confidence, and negative responses from you. Is it chippy, dirty play and you lose your focus? The “after the whistle” smack talk and chippy play used to get Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler off of his game. Once he learned how to stay focused he has turned in to a force.

So, you need to know yourself. What gets you off your game? Not scoring a goal for 5 games or a defensive mistake? Coach yelling at you? Know yourself and how you react to these situations. Then, plan a positive response.

Below list your most likely response to these common negative triggers:

Coach yells at your in front of the team
You are sat a shift
You have a bad 1st shift
You have not scored a goal in five games
You make a big mistake that leads to a goal
You are losing early in the game by 2 goals
You are losing late in the game
You get a bad call
You have an unlucky bounce that costs you a goal
Now read what you wrote. Which situations do you handle well and not so well? What are you doing well in the situations where you do respond in a positive way?

Most importantly, what could you do to respond even better in situations where you struggle?

Players respond differently to these situations, but a couple things are clear. First, you do not totally control whether or not these things happen. Second, what you control is how you respond to them. Third, how you respond can make the difference a good and bad game, and winning and losing.

To respond positive in these bad situations be like Sam Axe - have a good plan. In hockey, a good plan should consist of avoiding bad immediate responses like slamming your stick - respond (positive or neutral). The plan should also involve you taking deep breaths to calm yourself down and regain your composure (deep breaths). And, finally, your plan should include knowing what to refocus your mind on like the game plan, performance cues, or even just positive things like "you can do this".

I call this routine the 3 R's:

Example 3 R's Routine for the Negative Trigger of Bad Calls

Respond Neutral (turn away from official with mouth closed)
Relax (take some deep, slow breaths to clear your head of the trigger, think let it go)
Refocus (focus on performance cues of move your feet and get the puck to the net)
Developing and then practicing a 3 R’s routine to respond positive, to relax, and refocus on your game is critical to performing well when things are going bad. A plan is the best thing in a bad situation.

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