This article was written by Win Your Warmup's Michael Stacey, one of our Lift The Mask professional providers. His insight on the goalie's mental game and mental performance for athletes is a valuable resource for our entire community, so feel free to reach out and connect with him if you are looking for guidance or support!
It’s subtle and almost imperceptible, but it does happen. As your game performance and stats gain importance to you, the pressure to perform mounts. That sense of importance might build as your career promises to take you places, or it may increase throughout a season when a playoff run looks likely. Whether you’re putting pressure on yourself or it’s coming in from an outside source, that pressure can gradually impact the way you think and feel.
Pressure sometimes materializes in your thinking with the setting of rules. There’s a certain way things ‘have to be’ or ‘can never be’ for you to feel like you’re performing in the way you ‘should.’ You might think things like, “I have to make more saves in practice,” or “I can’t expect a start if I scrimmage like that.” Everybody has those thoughts. They look pretty harmless when they’re written out and are occasionally a helpful nudge to ‘clean something up.’ When thoughts about the way "you have to" be or the way"things need to be" start to consume your thinking or take a heavy emotional toll, that’s often a sign there’s a problematic rule in place. Fortunately, rules are meant to be broken [cue explosions and action movie music].
When you notice a rule in your thinking, you’ve got options in how to handle it. A rule is something you created and set, which means it came from your perspective or worldview. So, that means a subtle adjustment in the way you view your situation will help. It might mean looking at things objectively or being realistic and flexible by giving yourself permission to play outside the rigid boundaries you’ve set. This is simple to say, but a shift in perspective requires consistent maintenance work. That means noticing when a rule is at play in your thinking and reminding yourself of the way things are as opposed to the way they need to be. Try not to scold or judge yourself when you do catch yourself ‘buying in’ to a rule; just notice where your perspective drifted and right the ship with a reminder.
It helps, too, when you recognize things in your environment that add to the pressure. You respond as much to the world around you as you do to the one inside of you. Knowing yourself and what life events tend to shift you into a self-critical viewpoint (i.e. the postseason, competing for a roster spot, transitioning to a new team) enables you to mentally prepare for a rough patch. Life events with personal meaning and high stakes are difficult but navigable with perspective.
More goalies than you can imagine are asking for help with performance pressure. With more tools to use and the knowledge that exists, there are others out there managing the same difficulties. Hopefully, you feel more empowered by this. When performance pressure gets too high to manage on your own, it’s always okay to reach out for some perspective!