I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about the importance of mental toughness as a goaltender relatively early in my playing career. Four years ago, I made the jump from playing AAA to elite boys’ hockey. I was used to playing with strong players, but now I was facing some of the best 2003 boys in the country. It was exhilarating, but the transition exposed me to adversity for the first time.
I was determined to play well, but in the process, I started thinking during games about impressing my teammates and coaches instead of staying focused on what was happening in front of me. Ironically, that resulted in my allowing some “soft” goals and getting pulled in a few games. I was devastated, as this was not the way I wanted or expected to start this stage of my hockey journey. What was puzzling to everyone was that I performed great in practice but then not nearly as well in games. My parents and I were trying to solve that mystery when it occurred to us that the problem was not with my physical abilities or skill but rather with what was happening “between my ears”. My parents helped me to find a sports psychologist who specializes in working with athletes in slumps. After just a few sessions with him, I realized that when I was in games my thinking or worrying about impressing others meant that I was not fully in the moment and completely “locked in” to the play unfolding before me. I began practicing intensive concentration drills before games, visualization, and using trigger words to regain my focus when I realized that my focus was off. The result was much stronger, consistent performance that first year, which enabled me to make the team again for the next season. As difficult as that situation was for me at the time, I am grateful for it because it made me much tougher mentally and taught me a great deal about the mental part of the game. I am a better player today for having had that experience.
I am blessed to have learned to use this technique both on and off the ice. Whether it was successfully competing for a slot at the U15 National Player Development Camp, looking forward to earning the starting spot on the Loomis Chaffee Varsity hockey team, or sitting for a challenging exam in the classroom, I have learned that the key to success is to work hard, prepare well, and then be in the moment come “game day”. I believe that this approach will always serve me well in life.