From The Crease: Mental Toughness (Part 2 of 2)

By guest writer Dave DeSander –

Sign up for a Future Pro Goalie Schools summer camp before Feb. 28 and receive a free private lesson. Contact jefflerg(at)gmail for details.

Goaltenders, as like most hockey players, are known for their physical toughness. Those of you that watched HBO’s 24/7 Road to the NHL Winter Classic might have witnessed Dan Cleary lose seven teeth in a game, only to return after getting his lower lip stitched up. You also might have seen David Clarkson take 17 stitches on his elbow from a pressure cut and come back to help his team earn two points in the win. It’s these physical actions that have given hockey players the reputation for being the toughest athletes in sports.  However, their ability to withstand pain and return to play was not an act of pure physical toughness, but the underlying ability to be mentally tough enough to endure it. These players didn’t allow a physical injury to prevent them from succeeding. They convinced themselves mentally that they could still play and return to the game. While their actions speak for themselves, the message here is that the most successful hockey players, like goaltenders, have to learn to be mentally tough in their biggest moments.

See Part I of the Future Pro Mental Toughness piece here

In order to explain mental toughness, I need to give a few examples of goalies that are mentally soft.  When a goalie gets nicked up with a minor injury or illness, they use it as a crutch for their poor performance. They say, “I wasn’t feeling 100 percent healthy,” or “I have been battling a cold for a week.” Other goalies will use the excuse of past injuries for their lack of success. Saying they “could’ve gone on, but I got hurt at a young age.” You’ll find these goalies in every beer league around saying they would’ve had success, but always conveniently have an excuse as to why it didn’t happen.  Another type of mentally weak goalie is the one that doesn’t take responsibility for his own performance. They are always quick to blame the coach for lack of playing time, or they will say things like, “My teammates never back-check for me like they do for the other goalie.” This goalie is always quick to point the finger at everyone but themselves for a poor performance. These goalies usually will not make it out of minor hockey.

Learning to become mentally tough in order to have success is an attitude and mindset. If you’ve ever met a successful, professional athlete, you’ll pick up on their attitude and mindset when it comes to achieving their goals. They withstand everything that could prevent them from achieving their goals. They don’t blame others, but instead they work harder to get through the tough times.  It’s this type of daily mindset and focus that allows them to play at their highest capability every time they perform.

For goaltenders, you can learn this mental toughness with a new attitude (belief) and mindset (focus). Goalies have to have the unshakable belief that they can succeed in every situation, regardless of the circumstances. They have to possess an inner arrogance that makes you believe that you can achieve anything you set your mind to (notice I said “inner arrogance” not outer, where everyone hears your self-confidence). You have to have the focus to ensure that achievement is your No. 1 goal, regardless of distractions. The most focused goaltender refuses to be swayed by short-term gains that might jeopardize their long-term goals. These goalies aren’t satisfied with just one good game. They want to win every time they step on the ice.

When it comes to competition, the goalie that doesn’t possess the mental toughness will generally find a way to lose. A successful goaltender loves the pressure situations of competition. They adapt and cope with the changes and challenges of competition and find a way to ratchet up their performance. The mentally tough goaltender has the belief they can rise up to the occasion in order to be successful, every time they step on the ice – all while remaining focused on the process at hand (the game) rather that the outcome (fear of a potential loss).

Ask yourself, do I have the mindset and attitude of a mentally tough goalie?