Mental Toughness During Playoffs
The importance of your mental game is on display in big games.
Playoffs, must win games, rivalries or getting your opportunity to take on a more active role on the team put your mental game to the test.
How well you play in big games is often how hockey players are defined.
Some athletes are “gamers” and can raise their performance in big games… Think of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, or Serena Williams.
Other athletes choke or fold under the pressure of big games.
Play well when when you have to and you’re a clutch athlete… Play poorly when games matter most and often you receive the choke label.
If you want to raise your performance in big games, you must hone your mental game to meet the challenges and pressures of big games.
Maybe you can identify with the following illustration…
Garret G. is a goaltender for his collegiate hockey team.
Garret has quick reflexes and great anticipation, two of his greatest assets during games.
Garret has enjoyed a lot of success ever since he started playing goalie full-time when he was 11 years-old.
Garret’s teammates and coaches have tremendous confidence in his ability to make saves even when the defense breaks down, well, in the regular season that is.
During the playoffs, a different goalie emerges…
Garret’s confidence is taken over by doubts. Garret second guesses himself in big games and plays tentatively in the net.
Those once quick reflexes slow dramatically and he appears almost statue-like in front of the goal.
The pressure seems to flip a switch in Garret’s mind even though he has proven to be dependable and skilled during the regular season.
Garret’s problem has nothing to do with his physical game…
It is Garret’s mental game that becomes his biggest nemesis.
You may think that you are the only one that succumbs to the pressure of big games, but it happens to even the most talented players if they neglect their mental game.
Related Article: Hockey Mental Toughness And The Playoffs
For example, Sergei Bobrovsky, goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets, was statistically the best goalie in the NHL for those who played full time during the 2016-17 season.
Bobrovsky had a .931 save percentage and is also a finalist for both the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie and the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Unfortunately, Bobrovsky’s performance in the playoffs was completely opposite from his play in the regular season…
Bobrovsky went 1-4 with a 3.88 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage as the Blue Jackets were quickly eliminated in the first round against the Penguins.
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella talked about how important a strong mental game is during the playoffs.
TORTORELLA: “When you get to the playoffs, the physical stuff is kind of out of the way. It’s the mental part. And Bob leads the way with a number of our guys in (needing to) improve the mental toughness, of doing whatever you need to do to be that guy in the playoffs.”
Bobrovsky agrees that his struggles in the playoffs are mental and has decided to see a sports psychologist or do “other types of mental training” to improve his play in big games.
So, if you are under-performing in big games, take time to improve your mental game too.
Try this tip to raise your performance in big games:
Compare your best regular season games to how you play in big games:
- What changes for you?
- Are you more nervous?
- Do you play tentatively?
- Does your confidence seem to vanish?
- Does pressure or high expectations overwhelm you?
Next, ask yourself what you can do to improve these areas:
- Are you playing it too safe?
- Do you need more confidence?
- Are you trying too hard?
Playing in big games is the reward for all your hard work during the season. This is the time to relish the opportunity and use the extra adrenaline to your advantage!
When it comes to big games, your mental game plays the greatest role in how you perform.
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