Are You a Future NHL Champion?
Peter Gabriel explains what it takes mentally to be a National Hockey League (NHL) Champion.
When it comes to sports, we know that the best of the best always tend to win. Not always, every underdog has their day, but more often than not, it is the best players who go all the way and collect silverware. Those players are usually the biggest, fastest, and strongest in their fields. But there is another side to being a winner, the mental side.
Whilst many would think being the biggest talent would help you win, you would be wrong. A big part of being a winner is in the psychology of a player’s mind. Not only do you have to be the best, but you also have to think about it too. And if you do not believe it, that is where you can slip up. And it is why on occasion, an underdog will appear out of nowhere to do something magnificent.
These underdogs may not have the greatest talents on the planet, but they have the psychology of being a winner. And that can be enough to help someone cross the finish line in the first place. Look at the Leicester City of the Premier League; for example, in England, they won their division at odds of 5000/1. Because although they did not have the best talent, they believed they did that year, and it helped them go all the way.
But we are not here to talk about football (soccer) today. We are here to talk about Hockey. But the premise is the same, the psychology behind being a winner is just as important as physical skill and ability. And we are going to take a quick look at what it takes mentally to become an NHL Champion.
Blocking out negative thoughts
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Every year without fail, you will find the Toronto Maple Leafs in people's top NHL odds for the upcoming season. There is one reason for that, they are one of the best teams around with some of the world’s best talents. So good they should be winning silverware on the regular. However, as mentioned above, the best players do not always win. And whilst it is not all down to psychology, it does play a big part.
One thing that can negatively impact a team from performing to their best is curses and superstitions. If your superstitions do not go to plan, whether you do not wear your lucky underwear or something does not happen that usually does during preparation, it can get into a player’s mind. And they end up blaming it for their poor performance or the team’s loss.
Equally, many people believe in curses. It may be that in a pre-game interview, a player is reminded that they have not won against a particular team at a specific time or a certain location. It becomes the primary thought of that player, and instead of preparing mentally to overcome these curses, players let them get the best of them, and it can cause distractions. These are distractions that can cost a player and their team a vital win.
It is one reason why despite being one of the best, the Maple Leafs have set a record for being on the longest drought in the NHL without a Stanley Cup win. They often fall against much lesser teams or collapse in big vital games. And whilst they are disappointed, it continues to happen, and fans have become so used to it because they almost see it as inevitable.
But those negative thoughts need to be blocked out. Players must be able to tune into positive thoughts and focus on the current game ahead of them. History has no impact on how they perform unless they let it by getting the psychological advantage over them. To do this, sports psychologists help players to focus on the positives. They help build players up when they are down and give them the tools, so their mental state matches their physical talents.
It is not about motivation
People mistake psychology for a player's motivation. But it has nothing to do with motivation. Players winning trophies are lifelong dreams. They are motivated enough for the big games of their lives. The key to applying psychology to a player being a winner is that they remain focused on the goal and do not lose that focus because mistakes happen.
Ryan Hamilton, a sports psychologist who worked with Team Canada as they challenged for the Hockey World Junior Championship in 2018, supports that exact notion. He said in an interview that "it is not about being more motivated, it is about using all of that extra activation and applying it to our systems, to our structure, to our gameplan". It shows the importance of keeping focused on the things that matter rather than things out of your control.
As we discussed earlier, a player has to believe they are the best to perform to their best. A player in the wrong mental state will not be playing to their potential, which can often impact the wider team. But it is about staying positive. Everybody has an off day where they make mistakes. These things happen because we are human. The key is not to dwell on them but to remain positive. Learn from the errors and improve going forward.
It is this kind of mind-frame that NHL champions have. They realise they have to be focused at the moment. They cannot control what has happened already, but they can have an impact on the future. If they make a mistake that leads to conceding a goal, they can learn not to do that again. They can go forward and get a goal back themselves. It is all about being positive in their play, and as we stated above, blocking out the negative thoughts that can cloud our minds when things are not going the way they want.
Once all these things are put into practice, they can help players progress to the next level. It can see players perform like they never have before and lead to success both on and off the rink. And who knows, maybe one day, if the Toronto Maple Leafs read this, it can lead to them ending their Stanley Cup drought.
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About the Author
Peter Gabriel is a professional freelance writer with many years of writing experience.