Playing Your Best In The Biggest Games

Written by: Enio Sacilotto

With every new hockey season, there will be many big games with plenty at stake. When the pressure to perform is on many athletes tend to tighten the grip on their sticks, get nervous and are not at their best when it counts the most. When these big moments happen the effective athlete is CALM, COOL, AND COMPOSED and is ready for the challenge of a top performance. Playing your best in the biggest games is a skill to be developed, not just a matter of something you are born with. This article will give you 5 key points to make sure you are ready to be your best!

1. Outcome vs. Process

When you are focused on the outcome of the game (i.e. the score of the game, whether you scored a goal…), nervousness and the fear of failure sets in.

When this happens the athlete is prone to making mistakes and choking when it comes to crunch time. The best advice, “control the controllable”!

You cannot waste your energy and worry about the things you cannot control. You cannot control the crowd, referees, coaches decisions or for that matter if the opponents score a goal against your team!

Your attention and focus must be on what will help you play better, we call this the process. You can focus on your effort, how hard you are working.

You can focus on your execution; what must you do in certain situations?

Thirdly, you can control your emotions, you do not want to be too high or too low. What helps is for you to sit down with a coach or by yourself and set 1 to 3 performance goals for the game you are about to play.

Focusing on the goals is focusing on the process, this will give you a greater chance of success and to be your best!

2. Be in the Present Moment

Nothing ever happened in the past, it is happening now!

There is no value in thinking about events that happened in the past, especially if they are negative. You must be sure to learn from negative things that happened in the past, let them go and move on.

The future, can you control it? If you focus on the, “what ifs”, this will trigger tension, anxiety, and nervousness, you cannot control the future!

You must be fit and mentally well prepared and focus on the present moment, focus on what you need to do now!

During a competition, your mind will wonder, to the past and to the future. The trick is to catch your mind and bring yourself back to the present moment.

Think about your 1 to 3 performance goals, tap your stick on the boards, and bring yourself in the “NOW”!

3. Be Positive

Having doubt and some negative thoughts about your game are normal. There is a saying, “what you believe you will achieve” or another one, “what you think about you will bring about”.

If you think negative thoughts, you will bring negative results. If you think positive thoughts, you will bring positive results.

When doubt creeps in, let it go, breath deep, and visualize. Visualize yourself at a moment when you were in the zone and things were going well for you.

Another visualization technique is to see yourself writing the negative thought on a piece of paper, then taking a lighter and burning it!

This can take only a few seconds while you are on the bench. So remember, a few deep breaths and focus on the positive!

4. Dealing with Mistakes

Just like negative thoughts, mistakes are normal and part of sports.

All the top athletes in every sport have made all kinds of mistakes and have learned from the situations and bounced back strong.

Do not hang on to mistakes, it only creates further anger, tension, and will reflect your performance. All the best athletes forget fast!

Here is the simple 7 R’s formula to forget about mistakes:

Recognize – know you made the mistake,
Relax (when you get back to the bench) – by taking a few deep breaths,
Review – use your mind’s eye and visualize the mistake, the correction, and proper execution,
Release – let it go, on your out breath, let the mistake go,
Regroup – psych yourself up and be ready for the next shift,
Refocus – think about the 1 to 3 performance goals you have set for the game, and
Ready – you are ready to go out and do it all again, this time mistake free!

5. HAVE FUN!!!!

No matter what level you are at, a youth player or a seasoned professional, we are blessed to be able to participate in a sport that we love.

Enjoy the moment, big games and big moments are what sport is all about, this is why we compete. So have FUN and ENJOY!

Hope these simple tips will help you be ready to deal with the events that happen during a big game.

Remember to play hard, play smart, be a good team player and control the three E’s:

Effort, Execution and Emotional Control!

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