Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Test of Focus: The Cup is in the House!

The Stanley Cup will be polished and ready for its annual ceremonial lifting to the sky and skate around the rink at Monday night's Game 6 of the Finals. Vancouver is one win away from reaching the ultimate prize. Boston is hoping that they won't see the Cup Monday night. Who wins?

The team that is able to stay focused and execute will win Game 6.

This is one of my favorite sporting moments every year. The anticipation of the Cup making its appearance. And teams fighting either to skate the Cup or delay its arrival one more game. The specter of the Cup lurking down the hallway can be a great distraction. Both teams will need to manage thoughts about the Cup and focus on the task at hand.

But, how can a player who has dreamed about the Cup since they started playing the game as a child not focus on the Cup? Just the thought of it being in the builidng creates excitement and butterflies in the stomach. The key is as much in refocusing as it is holding your focus. The Cup will inevitably jump in to player's minds before the game and during on the bench. Thinking about yourself holding the Cup and celebrating or worse the other team holding the Cup are natural thoughts that enter a player's mind. But, these thoughts must be washed away quickly. Every Canuck and every Bruin should have a plan for managing their thoughts so as not to get caught looking ahead and/or getting anxious because of the enormity of the situation.

Team mottoes are excellent for keeping players focused on the bench. When Tampa Bay won the Cup their motto was "Safe is Death". And, when Carolina won the Cup it was "Relentless". Having these simple reminders helps players and coaches refocus one another back on the game. In general, the talk that happens on the bench is important to keeping the focus. If players are reviewing their shifts and talking about what they are going to do next time they go out as a line or defensive pairing keeps the focus on the game.

Having a meaningful team motto and communication on the bench is helpful, but not always enough to help players refocus on the task at hand with the Cup lurking nearby. Each player should have several "focal points" that they review in their mind. These focal points are their goals or keys for success. For example, a player may have focal points such as "move your feet", "strong on the puck", and "simple plays" to focus their mind on effective hockey. This is also important for role players whom may not see the ice for long periods of time, and yet have to come out on the ice and play energetic, responsible hockey when called upon.

The Blackhawks were in exactly the same situation last year as the Canucks are currently in, going on the road in Game 6 with a chance to win the Cup, but in a series where the home team won every game. With a 3-2 heading in to Philadelphia the Hawks certainly needed to keep themselves focused with the Cup within reach.

Lifelong dreams could be fulfilled inside Wachovia Center, and somehow the Hawks have to block it out. It's got to be easier said than done. "We just have to treat it like another game; just go out there and have fun and play our game," Kris Versteeg said. "You've been waiting your whole life for this situation, so there is no need to be nervous now.” 

(Roarke & Rosen, 2010. Five keys for Hawks, Flyers in Game 6. Retrieved from

I agree with Versteeg, both the Bruins and Canucks need to go out and have fun, play their game, and keep things relatively normal. This can be hard to do with the media attention that comes with the Finals. However, by trying to keep the game in perspective before the puck drops players can minimize their nerves and focus on their game plan, not the enormity of the situation.

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