This article was written by Michael Stacey, one of our professional providers. His insight on the goalie's mental game and mental performance for athletes is a valuable resource for our entire Lift The Mask community, so feel free to reach out and connect with him if you are looking for guidance or support!
At the highest level, every athlete is fast, strong and skillful. The difference between many players comes down to consistency and how they manage what’s ‘between the ears.’ That's why training the Mental Game is the most fundamental and important way to gain an advantage over your opponent and get a leg up on the competition. Your starting point for training the mental game is known as Self-Awareness.
Learning to Be Self-Aware
Have you ever been on a team, gone to an open gym, or been to a camp and seen a guy who thought he was the next Wayne Gretzky? Or maybe he was trying to ‘big dog’ people and chirp them like he’s Mic’d Up? Did he think he was doing a great job, but he was just a drill wrecker? There’s a good chance he has no idea what he actually looks like. This man probably isn’t too self-aware, at least when it comes to sports.
Self-awareness is a personal quality that you develop through practice. It comes with awareness of your own thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, and behaviors. The advantage of self-awareness is that you’re more in charge of yourself. A self-aware athlete knows:
· What they need to do on their own to be best prepared
· There are parts of their game that need improving
· When to seek out coaching from teammates or professionals
· How far and how hard they can push when they’re gassed
· When they tend to make excuses and how to combat them
· Others are affected by what they say and do
· To keep growing their game
Strengthening Your Self-Awareness
After training, practices, and games, take five to 10 minutes to ask yourself questions. You’ll probably have questions specific to your game that you and your coach should discuss together. The more general things you ask will be similar the questions below:
What did I work on today? What did I do well? Is there something I can do better next time?
How did I build upon my strengths? How did I build up my areas of improvement?
Did I take care of my body (warm-up, cool-down, nutrition, etc.)?
Did I do the things I needed to do to be mentally prepared and build my mental game?
Did I help my teammates improve (push them in practice, help support them toward their goals, be a good linemate/teammate, etc.)?
What do my teammates need from me every day and how can I bring it?
Did I talk to my teammates openly and accept feedback?
Did I talk to coaches about my performance and what I can do to improve or better play my role?
What’s the locker room environment like? Did I impact it positively?
Did I improve the team culture?
Did I do my part to help the team achieve its goals?
Pro Tip: Answer the same questions when you have your worst games. Compare your best and worst performances to see if you notice any clues in preparation, thinking, behavior/play, or your environment. Identify what you can do to ensure you have more good games. If you’re real slick, you’ll make a notebook page or goal-sheet with a notes section to track your physical and mental game improvements day-to-day.
Self-awareness creates a greater understanding of yourself and your game. With an enhanced knowledge of the way you play and operate, you’re also responsible for knowing when a challenge you’re facing is too much for one person. That’s the time to reach out to your coach or a Lift the Mask ambassador to say, ‘I need some direction.’