Hockey, because of its competitive nature, the game is never linear. Ups and downs, the elation of scoring and the disappointment of defeat, injuries, wins, and losses all play out on our amazing sheet of ice. Consequently, we should expect to have the odd scoring slump.
I find it fascinating to watch great athletes proceed through prolonged scoring slumps. I make a habit of observing the best-of-the-best halfway through their slump because I am keenly interested in understanding the process that puts them back on track. I have learned that goal-scoring slumps always include a fundamental shift in 3 specific areas:
Athletes going into and through slumps by accident however, on purpose have increased their focus on outcomes, and away from the process: “Uhoh, I haven’t scored in 12 games.” Once their focus gets firmly placed on outcomes, thinking becomes very difficult for athletes to get unstuck. This is where expectations combined with change of focus really pile on the pressure: “I can’t believe that I have only scored 3 goals in the past 20 games.”
Our undisciplined minds love to run on and feed the “poor me” mindset: “I can’t believe that this is happening to me.” “I wonder what my coach is going to do?” Change of focus combined with unmet expectations actually creates a change in the player’s physiology.
During my fifty years around the game of hockey I have heard experts say many times: “He’s gripping the stick.” Of course, they are using a metaphor to explain the physical change (in this case, tightness of body) that accelerates when athletes are using the wrong mental focus.
I remember playing for the Montreal Canadiens in the early 80’s when there was a high personal and cultural expectation for me to score goals and generate offense. Before learning these and other important mental skills, during one long slump, I gripped the stick so hard on a breakaway that I lost control of the puck and ended up in the corner.
The most important part of this article is articulating how we can help players create positive change through the challenge of a slump. Begin with a focus adjustment. Consciously focus on the small, controllable parts of the process, rather than on positive or negative outcomes. Return our focus back to what we can control (shooting pucks after practice, not missing the net while shooting in practice), and block thoughts that try to refocus on underachieved outcomes as soon as they enter our minds.
Secondly, readjust our expectations from outcome to process. Develop smaller goals that, when achieved, will help you score goals again. For example, “In tonight’s game, I expect to get 4 shots on net”, “In today’s practice, I expect to never miss the net.” Better process creates a better outcome. Build expectations into your process, rather than focusing them on your end result.
Finally, relax. Find ways to have fun with teammates both during and outside of the game. Players, at their best, in the ZONE, are relaxed, having fun, and focused in the moment.
Slumps occur because of a change in our thinking. We find our way out of slumps by re-adjusting our thinking and enjoying our process.
Watch for more on this topic in Ryan’s next book, MYnd SHIFT (Leading Successful Thinking). To purchase Ryan’s books and discover how Ryan can add value to your organization, visit www.ryanwalter.com.