*This interview was conducted by Hazel Rayson from Chasing The Puck. An early supporter of Lift The Mask and our first ambassador in the UK, Hazel does a great job of sharing our message and mission with hockey fans across the EIHL. This interview with Adam Morrison of the Fife Flyers dives into his pro mindset and unique outlook on the mental demands of the position. A huge thanks to Hazel and Adam for having an open conversation about these important topics!
Discussions around mental health aren’t something that come naturally in hockey. Or really in any sport. Hockey by its nature is a sport of confidence, aggression and masculinity. The outward mindset is to battle through situations and keep anything that might be deemed as a weakness under your mask. To keep it close to your chest and to just push through it.
Sometimes, however, this isn't the best method and can exacerbate a situation. For goalies, this can also mean the difference between playing and sitting on the bench. As an ambassador for Lift The Mask, I hope that by having these conversations with players from the Elite League (EIHL), it will begin to open doors for others that might need someone to talk to. I also want to try and normalize the conversation around mental strength and mental wellness.
In order to do my part, I discussed the topic with Fife Flyers goaltender Adam Morrison.
Morrison was signed by Fife in the summer of 2019. He came with an excellent resume and plenty of experience in North America under his belt. He's played with the Saskatoon Blades (WHL), the Hershey Bears (AHL) and the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL). He's also played with some of the best the NHL now has to offer, including his former goalie partner in Hershey, Braden Holtby.
Photo Credit: Fife Flyers
Recently, Lift The Mask founder Justin Goldman was asked by InGoal Magazine Radio whether he believed the statistic of "1-in-5 people" dealing with mental health issues was possibly higher in the goalie community. He explained how mental health could be viewed as a sliding scale, and it was more likely that "5-in-5 people" within our community has dealt with mental obstacles at one time or other.
Simply put, everyone struggles with their mental health, some more heavily than others.
Goalies have especially led the way in talking about their mental health, whether by the nature of the position or otherwise. Adam has kindly agreed to talk about it with us here at Chasing The Puck and Lift The Mask. In doing so, he has become the first pro goalie in the UK to open up about the subject of mental health and the goaltending profession.
In our interview, Adam explains how the pressures of being a goaltender means he does not have the luxury that outfield players have. He has nowhere to hide and he can't be dropped down to a lower line. For him, it is simply to play or not to play. This can be very hard to take as a goaltender, especially when you are working so hard on so many minute details of your game.
"Everyone deals with things in their life that will affect their work at some point, so it's really about recognition and understanding," Adam said about the goalie's mindset. "You can feel one way today and another the next, but you have the control to change your behaviors. It's a difficult process. A difficult task. But it doesn't make you any less capable on the ice or off it, whether you're a goalie or not."
Rayson: Goalies have led the way in conversations regarding mental health in hockey. Is there something about the position that lends itself to this? Or do you think the position makes it "easier" to talk about the subject?
Morrison: I think it generally has a lot to do with our position. It's a position where you spend most of your time on your own. It's a position that requires a very specific mental game to navigate through each match. One of the main reasons goalies lead the conversation is that we are very aware of how we are feeling mentally going into a game. We are very attuned to our minds, because the position takes a lot of concentration to keep us on task with our day-to-day routine. From my standpoint, when I'm not feeling great, I can trace it back to certain changes in my routine or with my stress levels. That causes changes in your brain chemistry. Part of your job as a goaltender is to learn how to accept those changes and just accept the reality you're living in. You have to choose to create your own reality, rather than succumbing to the pressures, stresses and anxieties that you're feeling on any given day.
Rayson: Goalies are a product of their environment and are known for not only being physically tough but also mentally strong. With the current [losing] streak that Fife is on, it's so easy for fans to blame the goaltender for the results. How do you overcome that criticism?
Morrison: Nobody has come up to my face and said, "Hey you, you suck!" If players in front of me make mistakes, there are five other guys to help carry the blame. That's not as blatant as when I make a mistake. When I do, a little red light goes on and everyone either boos or cheers. So I hold myself accountable at a higher level than anyone on the entire planet possibly could. I wouldn't say that I ever feel hurt or frustrated with any particular comment about my play, because I know as well as anybody when I'm playing well, I'm on top. When you get to 13 or 14 games [losses] in a row, everybody is frustrated. It doesn't boil down to one single individual not playing well.
"I don't read too many comments and just try to hold myself accountable." -Morrison
When you're consistently unsuccessful, it's a group that isn't performing the way that we need to perform. Of course goaltenders tend to be the first to get called out, because there are tangible numbers attached to our efforts. If someone is criticizing me on social media, I mean, they have every right to do so. They are paying customers and passionate fans. If it's going past the point of my play and they are criticizing me personally, then I'll look at it and think about why they might feel the need to attack me. I've always felt that you project what you're feeling onto those around you. I can understand the frustrations, but I can also understand individual circumstances. They may not have had the same luck as I had growing up. Or maybe they didn't have the family that was always able to support them in all ways. I don't read too many comments and just try to hold myself accountable. I know when I'm not playing very well, and when you're on a losing streak like we are, sometimes it just takes one play or performance to turn it all around.
Rayson: How have you stayed mentally strong during this tough stretch of games?
Morrison: Over the past month, I think I'm just sticking to what I know works. I know through my career I've built a strong platform and strong base for my mental and physical game. I know I don't need to abandon anything or change anything up. I haven't lost my ability to play goal. Everybody, especially goaltenders, go through ups and downs throughout a season. Not because they're physically getting tired, but because mentally it does become a bit of grind. Playing every single game and having to be switched on, when you add in other factors in life, you can become a bit bogged down and worn out. This is a brand new experience for me, being the number one guy and having to play every single game. I haven't experienced this since my last year in juniors. Already this season I've played more games than I did in the last two combined.
"Some years you're going to have numbers that are all-world and some years you're not." -Morrison
For me, I'm just taking it as a learning experience. Even though we're slumping, there's still some silver linings and we're learning how to play through these things, learning how to show up every single minute of every single game, regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, that is what a goaltender is meant to do. Some years you're going to have numbers that are all-world and some years you're not. The important thing is that you continue to pick yourself up and face what's coming at you, and not fear the outcome and trust in the process.
Rayson: What is your relationship like with your goalie partner? Are you able to share some of your troubles with him and vice versa?
Morrison: I think that's important, but there is competition. Andy [Little] and Tony [Tami], they've both pushed me hard this year. They're two very capable goaltenders and they work hard. I think it's very important not to isolate yourself from anyone on your team. Having a good relationship with your goaltending partner is beneficial, because you can bounce ideas off one another. You don't have to share everything that you're not happy about, because they're in a completely different situation. They're in a situation where they want to play but they're not getting that opportunity, because there's only one net and so they have another set of personal stressors to deal with.
I think it's important that you maintain a good relationship with one another, because you're on the same team. Competition for playing time is implied the second you step on the ice, but once you're off it, we're all just people and everybody is part of the team and you must get along. I've really enjoyed my time with Andy and Tony and they're great individuals both on and off the ice.
Rayson: How do you cope with the mental demands of the position? There isn't a lot of room for you have "off days" without losing your starting spot. What strategies do you personally implement that help keep these to a minimum?
Morrison: Coming up through the East Coast league [ECHL] and the American League [AHL], I would have kept things completely close to my chest. Only because until you have a resume and a tangible record to fall back on, you don't want to show everyone your cards before you play your hand. I think there are certain individuals that you can share everything with inside an organization, and certain individuals that don't need to know every single detail. Not that you can't trust them. It's similar to going to a doctor's office with a torn MCL and trying to see a shoulder specialist. You have to find the right fit. It's such a personal and specific topic that not everyone should know everything. It would be similar to that on a hockey team. You don’t have to explain yourself to everyone. I don't think there should be any issue with you going to a member of your organization or someone who is on staff and can deal with these discussions. It doesn't mean that he or she is rattled and can't play hockey tomorrow. It could just mean you are stressed and anxious.
"The moment I'm honest and say it out loud or write it in a journal, I recognize it and start to work on changing the pattern." -Morrison
Of course, there is a lot of pressure on the individual. There are a lot of new stressors. Especially for kids who are coming from juniors into professional hockey. I went from having a billet family, one who would cook every meal and do all my laundry. I basically just had to get up, brush my teeth, go to the rink and come home. That was it. My first year as a professional, it was like yeah, they're paying me all this money but now I'm in charge of doing everything for myself. It adds a lot of stress to young people. I just think that anxiety, depression and any kind of stress alters the way you behave and your perception of your behavior.
When I start feeling anxious, the first thing I look at is what might have changed. Is there extra stress in my life or am I just overthinking? The most important thing for me is being honest with whomever I'm talking to about what's going on and how I'm feeling. The moment I'm honest and say it out loud or write it in a journal, I recognize it and start to work on changing the pattern. That is something that can be quite hard for younger people to do. The second you open up and are honest about it, you have a chance to change it. It might not be a friend or family member. It might be with a professional. I think the second you start discussing it, then it's no longer a boogie man in your closet. It's just a new challenge. There are different levels of mental illness, but I think everyone with proper support and understanding can change their patterns. It's a lot of work but it is doable.
Rayson: How important do you think having a goalie coach is for young and developing goalies?
Morrison: From my experience with goalie coaches, the ones that have made the biggest impact on me are the ones who told me the truth. They don't sugarcoat it. They don't beat around the bush. They are straight up and will tell me what they think is happening, will check in with me, and will see if their assumption is correct. If it is, we work on it. If it's not, we move on. There is an abundance of goalie coaches, especially up and coming ones, who might feel pressure not to tell the truth for fear of hurting feelings. By not telling the truth, that ultimately festers and does more damage than good.
"There are different levels of mental illness, but I think everyone with proper support and understanding can change their patterns." -Morrison
It's good to have coaches around you that specialize in the position, but I also think that a lot of this position needs to be instinctual and can't be coached. One of the things that I've seen over the last decade is the evolution of goaltending and how over-coached it can be at times. There are these athletes out there who can do everything perfectly, but then when it comes to a game, they can't do it. This was my issue. Technically, I thought I could do everything that Carey Price could do, but I just over-trained myself to think that it had to be done a certain way. That doesn't mean I stopped working, it just meant I had to find specific times to work on technique and the rest of the time it was just letting it play out organically.
Rayson: How are you doing with your studies? How are you juggling your studies and playing hockey?
Morrison: School is my biggest change. I'm studying psychology. It's been good and I'm really enjoying it. My classes finished up just fine and I learned not only do you need to know the material but you also need to deliver it in a way that meets your professor's requirements. I wish I had done more university and taken some more classes throughout my career, because I really enjoy having an outlet. That's something that I think has been lost in the younger generations in terms of goalie training. In Canada now, hockey is 11 months out of the year. As a young kid, it's not bad to have extra time to develop your craft, but I do think you should be off playing other sports. It's the most underrated way of developing as a well-rounded athlete. That will translate directly into the sport you spend most time training on. I also think that having a break from what you're pursuing is good. It keeps your mind fresh and allows you to step back and evaluate whether it's something you want to keep doing. Does it make me happy? Am I just doing it because I'm good at it?
Part of the problem is that, especially with social media, we live in a world that's very isolating. It's so easy to isolate ourselves now, because you can just text, tweet, or whatever. I think that there are a lot of positive aspects to social media, but I think it breeds isolation from individuals, even if you're talking to people online. Not socializing face-to-face with people is another factor and can only amplify anxiety and depression. Even just going and doing something like a yoga class or going to a coffee shop and chatting to the people working there can really help. Just simple conversation. You will get gratification out of it by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and interacting with other humans.
Rayson: Are you completing your whole degree over here?
Morrison: I don't have any plans. That's another goaltender thing: I don't look too far into the future. I'm just trying to focus on tasks here day-to-day and then we'll re-evaluate at the end of the school year. I'm pretty sure with my degree, I can transfer back home if I don't come back. But as of now, my plan is to get my degree here, so I'm hoping that will work out.
A huge thanks to Hazel and Adam for allowing us to share this article and interview with our #LiftTheMask community!