The Return To Play
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!
Think about the goalie you were before hockey was put on hold. Remember the crisp crease movements and the perfect angles.
If you’re in the midst of reconditioning for the ‘don’t call it a comeback’ of your skills, you may feel like things are still off when you compare yourself to the goalie you were pre-COVID. But there’s a way to make helpful comparisons...and a way to drive yourself up the wall with them.
After giving up a goal you’d like back, you might find yourself comparing the "real you" who got scored on to the "imagined you" who would have made the save.
Seeing someone write that out will hopefully bring you an ‘oh...I see!’ moment. That's because focusing on what an imaginary version of yourself does better (wearing rose-colored glasses) just creates negative thoughts and challenging emotions. The real ‘you’ who makes those saves does real, productive, controllable things to rob shooters.
So instead of focusing on what makes you inadequate or different from how you’d like to be, try making more productive comparisons. A way to do this might be:
● Examining the strategy you used (e.g. angle, timing, cheating over) and then adjusting
● Imagining what you need to do to make the save next time, and then adjusting
● Identifying where your skills are at now and how sharp they need to play at your best
● Focusing on developing a plan with your goalie coach to make it happen
A second mental skill that goes hand-in-hand with this strategy is giving yourself permission to get scored on sometimes.
That doesn’t mean you should purposely give up goals. It means learn to be okay with the natural errors that accompany the learning process for a goalie, especially one who is returning from a long absence. You’re shaking off the rust and getting refreshed on little things that bring you as close to perfection as possible. While working toward that level of accuracy, realize that you’re going to make mistakes.
Enjoying the process and noticing how you are still a good goalie will make acceptance much easier to stomach. Take a moment to appreciate your talent objectively and truthfully. Set expectations for yourself based on what you can reasonably do. Allow yourself to make mistakes in the learning process and celebrate the small successes when you sharpen a skill up to the level you expect of yourself.