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Toughening your Mental Game

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GOALTENDING:  TOUGHENING YOUR MENTAL GAME

I'm sure there are many frustrated coaches out there who have seemingly talented goalies who fold when there is pressure of a game. In practice, they display all the physical tools necessary to dominate opposing teams, but once the crowd files into the rink and the scoreboard gets turned on, the goalies stop puck's like Charlie Brown pitches baseballs.

The old cliché is that goaltending is 90% mental. Mental toughness really is that important, yet very few goalies are disciplined enough to practice their mental skills. It takes work to become mentally tough and it requires patience for the mental game to develop to the point that the goalie doesn't have to think about it.

A mentally tough goaltender knows how to focus in on the important issue at hand: stopping the puck. During the game, the crowd's comments are a distant buzz, the school day is irrelevant and the argument you had at breakfast with Mom and Dad is on the back burner. You are only keying in on the movements of the players in relation to the puck. Any other distraction can wait until the final buzzer sounds.

This sounds simple enough, but obviously it takes practice to learn how to keep your thoughts from straying. Every thought you have is a conversation with yourself. If you are thinking too much you aren't able to give the game 100% of your attention. Goalies tend to have very negative, distorted thinking. If a puck goes in, many goalies start ripping themselves. "I can't believe that shot went in!" "Man, I'm stinking the joint out tonight!" "Please, don't let them score another one!" All of these comments are examples of negative thinking. So what if one goal goes in? Your team has plenty of time to score so relax and try not to let them score any more.

You must learn to put a positive spin on everything and really mean it! Once you convince yourself to be positive, you learn to expect success. These are some examples of negative, distorted thinking and the positive response you should be using:

NEGATIVE

POSITIVE

1. I can't believe that went in!

1. They got that one, but they won't do it again.

2. Why can't I stop that shot?

2. I've stopped that shot before and I'll do it again.

3. These fans are calling me a sieve!

3. I'm no sieve, they yell that at every goalie.

4. Oh my God, I've given up 6 goals!

4. I'm not going to let them get 7.

5. I'm so nervous that I'm gonna blow the first shot.

5. It's okay to be nervous, it means that I'm ready to play.

6. I can't play well in a game.

6. I've played well before and I'll play well again.

7. Their top scorer owns me on breakaways!

7. I cant' wait to stone him. He thinks he can score on me, but I'm going to dominate him.

8. The puck went in, the crowd is going nuts. I'm so embarrassed!

8. Big deal, you scored one measly goal on me, you would think you won the Stanley Cup.

Anytime you catch yourself in a negative thought, you must immediately change it to a positive one. A positive attitude must be hammered home at every opportunity or else your negative thoughts will become self-fulfilling prophesies. Make mental images of yourself succeeding. "See" your self stop a breakaway, make a stellar glove save or break up a power play. It's okay to dream.

Make your dreams a reality by practicing like you would like to execute in games. Don't cut corners. Don't get lazy. Make your decisions and techniques as accurate as you hope to do in a game. Mental toughness can be learned by disciplined practice and pre-game routines. Failure to address the mental game will result in prolonged slumps and erratic play. It is your job to be mentally tough so take the time and make the effort to be your best!

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training

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