Every sport is a mental game. No matter what you play, you need to have the right mentality, the right attitude, if you want to succeed. If you want to be successful in your sport, you not only need to train for hours in the gym and on the field, but you also need to take the time to yourself to think about how you can improve your game on the mental level. Over the course of my athletic career I have played pretty much every position; from goalie in hockey, to midfield in lacrosse, and forward in field hockey, I have experience with pretty much every aspect of the game. All of the positions have their own demands, and they only increase the further you go.
I’ll start with the goalie.
Being a goalie can be extremely tough at times. As Jacques Plante, NHL Hall of Fame goalie, once said “How would you like a job where, when you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?” Doesn’t sound like too much fun right? In order to combat this, goalies need to have a reset switch mentally. When you let in a goal, you know you made the mistake, and in most cases, you know exactly what you could have done to save it. If you start thinking about it too much, you won’t be ready for the next shot. Frustration is a killer, and you need to be able to put the goal behind you in order to focus on the next thing that’s coming at you. I am a fairly superstitious person, so I need to do things in a certain order, and do a certain warm-up, for me to feel ready for the game. So how do you become a mentally tough goalie? Visualization. Actually, visualizing will help anyone in any position. You also need to be able to take a breath, re-focus, and put the past behind you and move on. If you have superstitions, you either need to give in to them, or put them behind you. They can take over your game, but if you are very ritualistic, it could be useful for getting you game ready.
Now let’s talk about the defense. As a defender you need to have a strong and steady mentality. The best defenders are the ones who are able to sense when the right time is to run the ball, when to step up, and when to back off. Defenders always need to be aware of everything that is going on around them, assessing all of the possible situations.
Now forwards; forwards need to have the little voice that is constantly saying “this is my ball, I am going to take it and score”. There’s a reason why players like Sydney Crosby have scored so many goals: it’s because he wants to. Everytime he has the puck, he wants to either score, or set up one of his teammates to score. You have to want the ball. Wanting the ball, or the puck, is essential for every position, especially in the midfield.
That’s one thing that I found is that when I played midfield, it was my job to get the ball back to the offensive zones when we were on defense. I always wanted the ball. If a girl was running down the field, I wanted to catch up to her and mess her up, in the hopes of either breaking her momentum or slowing the play down. Every ground ball, I was going to chase until I couldn’t anymore. Every time I was playing, I had a drive that forced me to step up my game, and go the extra few inches to get the job done.
I think in every sport, and in every position, you need to have a little bit of crazy; something that makes you go the extra mile when you can’t go anymore.
You need to have the drive, whether it is to get the ball, to score a goal, to save a shot, you need to have the drive, and you need to want it.
As a coach, I can see what makes my players successful. Yes, their skills play a huge part, but there’s a reason why certain players always get on the scoresheet, or why they always seen to pick up the ground ball. The characteristics that I look for in a player are want, drive, and willing.
Want: to want the goal, to want the ball, to want to get better, to want to learn
Drive: the ability to push yourself to do what needs to be done; pushing yourself physically and mentally to get to the next level
Willing: to do what the coach asks you; willingness to learn; willingness to try something new because you’re needed in a different position
It’s a fairly cliche list, and I understand that, but these characteristics are essential to getting to the next level, whatever that may be.