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Whether a regular season or playoff game, it’s important to focus on the things you can control. It’s also meaningful to recognize that you cannot control the game’s outcome. The final score is a team effort and while you can do things to influence the likelihood of a “W” or “L,” it’s not entirely up to you. Focusing on your personal performance between puck drop and buzzer tends to help more than thinking about the game’s outcome. While many of us have been told “focus” by a former coach, specifics don’t always follow - it’s hard to pinpoint what to focus on and when to zero in on a specific thought process. However, we can break down when and what focal points tend to be more productive than an end-of-game focus.

  • What are the important things to focus on pre-game?
  • Enjoying a day with the boys, socializing, being part of positive locker room environment
  • Strategy (e.g., opposing player’s tendencies, opponent’s strategy, your strategy to respond)
  • Specific areas of focus for your gameplay (e.g. your own coaching pointers)
  • Execution of your warm-up (doing everything you need to do right, feeling what you’re doing)
  • Is your gear going on right, focus on the process of putting on your gear

What are the important things to focus on in-game?

  • Developing rush
  • Tracking the puck
  • Watching for someone waiting for a breakaway pass
  • What you need to do for next play, self-coaching, Strategy, things you’ve learned in that game
  • Body language between whistles
  • Maintaining effective communication habits
  • Are you maintaining your habits or getting over/under amped and find things are falling off?
  • Physical state (need to breathe, stretch anything, adjust some piece of gear?)
  • In the case of roller hockey, is anybody cherry picking?

It is okay to take mental breaks. Some athletes use ‘down time’ to shut off for a bit. Some of you may already take the time between rushed to:

  • Clear your head of all thoughts
  • Let yourself think about whatever you want, tune out
    • If you notice letting your mind wander is problematic or your mind goes in a negative direction/is hard to reel in, find a good habit or routine that reels you in instead

The consistent theme is to focus on what you are doing, coaching cues, what’s productive for you, or what you will do for the next play – the process or strategy instead of game outcomes. Above isn’t an exhaustive list and attending to that many things is likely counterproductive. The list provides examples and a starting point for assessing your game and what works for you. If you have a game where things aren’t quite “clicking” and you’re not totally immersed in the experience (that “flow” feeling), take time afterwards to ask yourself why, then formulate a plan. Making your plan a consistent habit in drop-ins or stick’n’pucks will facilitate focus on game day. If you're looking to sharpen your mental game, just as we said before, there's tremendous resources at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) website (www.appliedsportpsych.org). They also have an international list of consultants who are happy to work with folks one on one identifiable via the "Find A Consultant" tool. If you'd like to read about my background and work, you can find out more at my website (www.staceyandassociatesathletics.com).

Good luck!


Mike Stacey, M.S.

Sport Psychology Coach

Stacey & Associates Athletics


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On 9/27/2017 at 4:32 PM, TheGoalNet said:

Great stuff, thanks for posting. The part about focusing on putting your gear on correctly is actually something I never much considered. I am sure we have all had that game where the left skate just feels too tight and it's constantly on your mind 

I'm so OCD about my gear I pack everything in the same order every time, I get dressed in the same order every time, I count the holes on my straps to make sure they're always the same, I get undressed in the same order, pack everything again in the same order, and then unpack again in the same order for everything to dry off.  I am the prototypical "goalies are all headcases" goalie :giggle:

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4 minutes ago, SaveByRichter35 said:

I'm so OCD about my gear I pack everything in the same order every time, I get dressed in the same order every time, I count the holes on my straps to make sure they're always the same, I get undressed in the same order, pack everything again in the same order, and then unpack again in the same order for everything to dry off.  I am the prototypical "goalies are all head cases" goalie :giggle:

I do all of those things too but just kind of assumed everyone else did too. lol

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@Mike Stacey - For any of us that might be late to the whole mental game approach, do you have 2-3 tips or tricks for things to focus on or refocus during a game?

I read a golf focus book that advised thinking 2-3 non technical "swing thoughts" right before you swing. Over simplified explanation of the tip, but it was helpful. I have tried to apply this methodology to goalie, but I find it challenging because of the dynamic nature of hockey. There isnt the time to go through steps 1-3 if you will 

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@TheGoalNet Thank you so much for asking! 

That golf book provides a tool I’ve seen employed in individual and team sports – including fast paced sports, like hockey. The challenge with doing a quick review of 2-3 “swing thoughts” whether they’re technical or nontechnical in any sport is finding an appropriate time to run through them. In the case of hockey, when the play is in your zone or in the neutral zone and looking like it could go either way, there’s likely more pressing things to attend to (e.g., tracking the puck, an open man, lie of the shooter’s stick, handedness). If self-coaching/technique check-ins are helpful, making your “swing thoughts” into one to three word phrases and employing them during play in the offensive zone, before the rush develops, between whistles, or other “down time” may help. A little trial and error can identify when there’s consistent time for a 1-3 step review or if that’s impractical for your specific needs and situation. If a review like that proves to be unhelpful in-game, that might be a tool to try in the locker room pre-game or between periods. Should that be the case, you can explore other in-game strategies.

One fundamental skill for any player’s toolbox is self-awareness. In the case of focus, this would mean identifying when you aren’t focused, what you’re attending to instead, and when you tend to lose focus. Being able to identify what you should focus on instead is a helpful second step (e.g., tracking the puck, reading the rush, checking your mirrors). What’s happening in-game that requires your immediate attention? Often, having a routine to “tune in” helps players during times when they aren’t in the zone and playing without thinking. A physical routine could be something as simple as a quick open and close of the glove, stick tap, or some physical behavior. Or it might be a mental routine, like a word, phrase, or image that has some meaning. It could be a combination of these things – the crucial part is it’s short, meaningful, personalized, and practiced consistently. As an example, Jon Doe might:

·        See the rush cross the first blue line

·        Open and close his glove

·        Say “Read, then Track”

·        Read the play

·        Begin tracking the puck

Ideally, this takes Jon no more than 1 or 2 seconds. Jon then has a consistent, practiced, meaningful cue to tune in and remind himself what he needs to do and where his attention needs to be. In the event Jon loses focus, he might:

·        Open and close his glove

·        Say, “Read, then Track”

·        Read what’s happening

·        Track the puck

What you need to do when you tune in to begin with or refocus likely isn’t dramatically different. However, if Jon’s in the thick of a scramble (in every-second-counts scenarios you’d hope you keep your attention on what you’re doing), catching yourself, then getting your focus on what you need to be doing right then is an alternative to a 1-2 second routine.

I hope this response helps! It’s not prescriptive, just there to give some ideas. Absolutely analyze your own game, needs, preferences, and what’s worked well for you in the past. I’m happy to answer any more questions!!!

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