Well I left you hanging with the phrase anxiety in hockey. We may have thought of anxiety in leading up to the game, but while playing the game no way. There is a great podcast by Dr. McCabe called Coaching The 21st Century Athlete. The good Doctor explains why athletes suffer from this before, during and after play. If you were to ask these players of ours who the best players in the NHL are, chances are they would say Crosby, McDavid, OV, or Mathews. Therefore, they try to model their game after theirs. In reality as Doc McCabe states, they are outliers. The definition of an outlier is: a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.
Much like a golfer, who models his game after TW. I fell into this as young golfer. Hogan was the standard. However, I was not Hogan’s body type or height, nor did I have his flexibility, or the simple fact he was left-handed and I was right-handed. Too bad it took me 35 years to figure it out. So, you ask where does anxiety fit into our story. Our athletes would not shoot the puck unless it was on a tee for them. They would not dump the puck in unless they had the perfect lane.
The era we played; hockey highlights were once a night during the 5 minutes of sports on the local station. Now, our athletes have access to highlights 24/7 along with the daily top ten lists on SportsCenter. All they see is perfection! That is the new norm. So, how do we get our message across?
First of all,we needed to communicate that most goals that are scored are a result of second and third chances. They are ugly, but they count too. Secondly, teams will have a book on you. They will know you only shoot if it is absolutely perfect. A very easy defend. However, if you shoot when they are not expecting it, you send them into a state of uncertainty and confusion. This creates an advantage for your team. Hockey is still a team game the last time I checked. This was all great information, but they still needed to shoot sooner and how do we do this is the challenge.
The first thing we need to do was to change our terminology. We stopped using dump in and replaced it with zone entry, shoot from anywhere became pucks on net, and finally create offensive opportunities replaced scoring chances. They all had the same meaning just a little more current for our players.
Our practice had to be structured to lower the anxiety level and at the same time increasing player confidence in shooting the puck. Practice had to be a safe place to make errors and to understand the why’s and what’s of their decision. Errors in practice cost us nothing. Coaching errors in practice cost us games. It was communicated to players that this is on the coaching staff for the moment. It goes back to Geno Auriemura statement. Players do things for two reasons. Coaching or they make the decision not too. We are now doing our part. Did a number of shooting drills where the objective was to release the puck as soon as it was on the stick. Location and outcome did not matter. If in the coaching staffs’ estimation that it took too long short blasts of the whistle was given. The player was instructed that a simple angling of their body would allow for a much more favourable position to receive the pass and therefore a much quicker release. We communicated it is not about being perfect it is about being better. Improvement in every moment. The big question in our mind was transference to a game.
The next game we jump out to a quick 3-0 lead against the so-called best team in the league with the best goalie. How did we do that? OMG, we shot the puck! They change keepers, and we score again. Our kids begin to think that they have figured it out. I walk down to the Head Coach and say” now we really have to coach.” The team has finally experienced success and joy and we do not want to kill it that, but there is still half a game to go and it is important that the team sticks to the process. As it turns out we deviated from shooting the puck and reverted back to the old habits. The honeymoon phase ended and we crashed. We are in a fog. The good news was the staff proved that if you shoot you can score. The bad news was we ended up tying and let a valuable point and momentum slip. However, our opposition now knew they were in a series against a team that was just figuring out how good they could be, and they knew they were not going to get any better.
As it turned out we came out of the fog, had an ah ha moment, tied another game and lost a close 3-2 game to get eliminated. Our guys played so well in the last two games; it was hard to believe they were together for only 35 days. Our opposition was playing scared and we played with confidence that was unimaginable 35 days ago. We had a little incident near the end of our game, which they provoked and we finished. The message the other coach (a term I use loosely) sent to his team at the end of the game said a lot about the character of the staff. As is the tradition in hockey handshakes are exchanged after the series. We waited for them to come over for five minutes after, but I guess they could not find their way.
Driving home after I broke into laughter and my friend and Head Coach asked what was so funny? I said “who thought two senior citizens after all this time would still be so dam competitive and have 15-year old’s to be that catalyst?” Truly amazing isn’t it.
Until Next time!
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