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Why Mental Skills Training is Hard and Easy at the Same Time

An incredibly insightful young athlete asked me a question yesterday at the end of a presentation on mental skills training for goaltenders. We walked through difficult situations in the crease and troubleshot strategies to help refocus and 'play the game in front of you, not the one in your head.' He asked, 'Since we have these strategies, what's going to be the best way to make them work?'

It's something we talk about A LOT in the Win Your Warm Up program. You have to commit. Look at mental skills training like strength and conditioning. There's a specific exercise you know how to do; you also know how it benefits you - the knowing how and why is easy. The actual doing (especially when it's just you, no teammate or strength coach to push you) is challenging, because you have to commit to making the exercise happen. No one is going to run sprints for you - you've got to commit and do it yourself.

The same is true for mental skills training. When you're in the heat of a game, you're feeling rough, and your distracted, you know exactly what to do. It's a matter of committing to making it happen each and every time you get distracted. For example:

  • The goal horn sounds. I feel frustrated and upset with myself for letting in a soft goal.

  • My frustration is getting hold of my thoughts and pulling my attention off the game.

  • I need to remember 'I can be as frustrated as I want, but that's not where my attention needs to be right now.'

  • I refocus on reading the game in front of me, checking who's on the ice