Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Do It: Blog Entry 3 of 5

Blog Entry 3: Commitment to Daily Habits and Routines

"Confidence is a beautiful thing." Chico Resch, former NHL goalie and New Jersey Devils television color commentator

Chico uttered this moments before the Devils landed their third goal behind Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier. LA which had not given up a goal in over three games, and NJ which has been struggling to score goals, was blitzed by the Devils for three goals in the second period. The Devils began to gain confidence after their first goal and began to take over the game. New Jersey scored 3 quick goals but mainly because they were moving their feet and outworking the Kings.

“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your talent, there is only one way to obtain it-work.” - Jack Nicklaus, Golf Legend

To be a confident hockey player you need to have an understanding of who you are as a player and person. This is the foundation of confidence. However, you are not going to have total belief in your game unless you do the hard work to become fit. There is no replacing or bypassing the third layer of hockey confidence to get to the top of the pyramid. Hard work, commitment, and discipline cannot be replaced. Players must do the hard work of getting into shape physically and mentally so they can use their talents in highly competitive games. Being fit, strong, fast, and skilled and being able to produce in pressure situations is the greatest source of confidence. Thus, you must put in the work so you can then trust your preparation once it is game day.

To develop confidence in your game you must have the commitment to good daily habits and routines that fuel your training.

“If you train hard, you'll not only be hard, you'll be hard to beat." - Herschel Walker, ex-NFL player

I preach TCB to the players I work with; take care of business! This means do what you need to do to have great energy and focus at practice and games. And, TCB goes for every day, not just the day before the game.

TCB Principle – Take Care of Business!
  1. Commit to daily life and training routines
  2. Get fit and strong
  3. Set achievable, difficult goals every day and go after them (it will build confidence)
  4. Minimize your stress when possible (or deal with it)
To be confident in games you have to live with discipline. Get good grades in school and finish your homework on time (or maybe even ahead of schedule) so you don’t have to stress about it. Eat healthy, get your rest, stay hydrated, stretch, and workout. Set a schedule for your workouts. Get a consistent and sufficient amount of rest. Follow a healthy diet that fuels your body and helps you grow from the workouts. Drink lots of water and avoid soda and caffeine, especially when training and competing.

Getting the most out of yourself also means setting goals that get you outside your comfort zone and push you everyday to get better. Learning a new skill, or doing a learned skill faster with more pressure will enhance your confidence and improve your performances. Stay focused on your goals and work towards them. Don’t forget your goals to be a great hockey player!

Finally, minimize your stress when possible. Take care of school work and avoid “drama” and fights with friends and family by being a good communicator and good person. Making good daily decisions will keep you on the path to your goals to be a great hockey player. Too many talented individuals lost their dream because they drank and drove, experimented with drugs, or just made bad decisions. Stay sharp and keep your eye on the prize – your goals. You will achieve them with hard work and discipline. It is actually the only way you will reach your potential.

(To read more about how Disciplined Preparation Habits Create Consistent Performances go to the Hockey Edge Newsletter archive link on the right column of this blog)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Elimination of Checking at the Pee Wee Level is a Good Thing

USA Hockey's elimination of checking at the Pee Wee level turned some heads and probably got the "old-time hockey" coach upset. "The kids need to be tough. They need to learn how to hit." These sentiments are not new.

I have argued for years that checking was too much of an emphasis at the Pee Wee level and the kids did not understand what it meant to hit someone. They were trying for NHL-type huge hits instead of just trying to regain possession of the puck.

Rob Simpson makes some great points about how checking at the Pee Wee level created a ton of issues for players, coaches and parents. I am excited to hear that an ex-NHL player is supportive of USA Hockey's decision and recognizes how it has bettered the game. No more convincing players to go back on the ice despite the fact that some 6'2" early maturer was taking heads and parents chiding him to do so.

Rob Simpson's take on the Elimination of Checking

One point I want to elaborate on from Simpson's blog - by removing checking from the Pee Wee level USA Hockey is not recommending coaches to avoid teaching body contact. Quite the opposite. Coaches should be teaching kids to protect the puck with their body, angle players towards the boards, and block their opponents. By teaching players the basics of body contact they will understand truly what it means to use their body in hockey. Right now it is just huge hits and applause.

I wonder how this rule change will affect body checking at the Bantam level? I think we will have similar problems that we had at the Pee Wee level unless we, the coaches, get better at teaching our players what it means to check legally and how to do it properly.

Check out Dr. Larry's Hockey Edge Newsletter for columns on Body Contact (Fall 2004 issue) and Developing Body Contact Confidence (Winter 2004) at Hockey Edge Newsletter archive

Thursday, October 13, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Do It: Entry 2 of 5

Blog Entry 2: Personality and Awareness: The Foundation of Confidence

The first 2 levels of the Pyramid of Confidence are your personality and self-awareness. You need to know yourself to understand what gives you confidence, what takes it away, and how you react to certain situations – basically what you bring to the table as a person that affects your hockey.

Your Personality

Here is an exercise that is important to knowing yourself. When you think about the self or "I" write down the thoughts that come to mind for a minute. Do not filter the thoughts just write down what comes to mind. Then, review your list and see if it accurately describes you. Do the same for the hockey player “I”. Then, ask someone that knows you well these questions about you. It will be interesting to see what they have to say and how it compares to your own thoughts. You will learn a great deal about yourself!

Your personality determines how you view the things that happen to you. Are you very anxious prior to games or relaxed and loose? If you have a personality where you are nervous in many life situations than you may have a trait anxious personality (or a consistent feeling of threat in many different situations) and this of course applies to hockey, as well. So, if you tend to feel very nervous before games and think about the consequences (probably making them bigger than they really are) than you likely have an anxious personality type.

The expectations you place on yourself also has to do with your personality. Do you have very high standards and expect perfection? If so, you might be considered a perfectionist, especially if you are like that in many parts of your life (school, home, friends, family). Perfectionism is partially good, you expect a lot of yourself and are motivated to do it, but unfortunately the dark side of perfectionism is that you beat yourself up when you don’t meet your unattainable high standards. Are you often unhappy with your performance despite others like teammates, coaches, and parents telling you that you played well? Do you frequently break down your performances and focus on the things you did wrong? You may be perfectionistic.

Other personality traits can really make a difference in your confidence, as well. Are you an optimist (see the glass as half full, expect things will turn out well) or a pessimist (glass is half empty; expect things won’t turn out well)? Optimism-pessimism create self-fulfilling prophecies. Think about a pink elephant. What are you seeing? A pink elephant even though we both know they do not exist. Have you ever thought in your mind that you would make a tape to tape pass and send your linemate in for a scoring chance? And then it happened? It is not the ability to see the future, sorry. The great pass and scoring chance happened because you were looking for the opportunity to make a play and focused on the play around you, not on your feelings or thoughts. Optimism is a trait that has been found in Olympians that have won multiple gold medals.

Get to know yourself better. Go to for the free Know Yourself activity.

In the next blog entry I will present how daily habits of hard work and preparation are a part of the foundation for confidence. And why if you are habits are not productive that you are undermining your own confidence.

Know Thyself

The second layer of the pyramid you are already working on; awareness. The successful hockey player knows him or herself very well. They know what affects their confidence negatively and positively. Here are two questions for you to think about…

What things or situations trigger you to have more confidence?

What things or situations trigger you to have less confidence?

Of the things you listed how many do you have complete control over to make happen? For instance, if you are waiting on someone else to praise you so you feel confident then you are basing your confidence on something you do not control. If you don’t have control over many of these factors then you better plan to deal with them, or substitute other ways of being confident!

Pay Attention to these 3 Things:

  1. Think about how you are limiting yourself by the way you’re thinking. (Remember ceilings are self-imposed)

  1. Recognize how your personality influences your confidence. If you are pessimistic by nature then you will have to work at being positive in tough situations.

3.   Know the Situations/Triggers that can cause you to lose confidence and how you are performing in those situations.
Want to read more about Knowing Yourself as a hockey player and person. Read this article on the AASP website,

Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Develop It: Entry 1 of 5

Blog Entry 1: Boosting Your Confidence and Your Game (there will be a series of 5 blog posts in the next few weeks)

The difference between winning and losing is so small. The Red Wings-Sharks series during the 2011 NHL Playoffs is a perfect example. The Sharks won in 7 games, but Detroit lost on several deflected pucks in overtime. Very easily those pucks aren’t deflected or go directly into Jimmy Howard’s pads. How much Detroit really could have done to better the luck is debatable, San Jose played excellent hockey, but clearly they had a great chance to win the series.

While a team does not control the bounces, a factor that is controllable and absolutely essential to winning and good performances is confidence. Do not take my word for it, though, you hear and read about confidence as a necessary quality for success by professional players all the time.

Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks talked about the reasons for his excellent play in the 2011 playoffs

“I built the confidence up. Whoever I'm with on the ice, I feel confident. Last year and this year with the success, definitely helps the confidence.” (May 16, 2011; ASAP sports)

Confidence is necessary to win at the highest levels of hockey, and really at all competitive levels. The way you think makes all the difference in winning and losing. We all know this, but only some players actually discipline themselves to think positively and productively in pressure situations. The majority of players on the other hand place limits on themselves. They doubt their abilities, skills, and chances of being successful. They even sometimes doubt that they deserve hockey success (let alone in life). I like to think of these things as ceilings. They put a limit on how high you can go. Unfortunately, many times these ceilings are self-imposed; we put these limits on ourselves and let them block our true potential. Do you do this?

It’s time to blow up your ceiling. One of the most famous ceiling breakers was Sir Roger Bannister the first human being recorded to have run a sub 4-minute mile. At one time it was thought impossible.

“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”
Roger Bannister (After becoming the first person to break the four-minute mile)

Bannister broke the 4-minute mile on May 6, 1954 (from In the following 18 months more than 45 athletes also broke this barrier. Why could not one of these runners break the 4-minute mile prior to Bannister? Had to be the belief that it could be done.

If you are limiting your hockey performance by the way you think it is time to stop and instead envision what you could be.

"Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision." Muhammad Ali

To turn your vision into reality you must have a plan for boosting your confidence so that you play hockey at a higher level consistently.

The Pyramid of Confidence (Lauer, 2010)

Confidence Pressure Training
Disciplined Thinking (Thinking Positive and Productive)
Commitment (Daily habits/routines that focus you on goals)

Awareness (Knowing your self & how respond to situations)
Personality (Who you are; what you bring to the table)

From my experience as a researcher and consultant I believe that there are generally five layers to your hockey confidence. These can be viewed as a pyramid because a lower level is the foundation for higher levels of confidence. At the foundation is what you bring to the table – your personality. Basically, who are you as a person and a hockey player?

The Pyramid of Confidence shows you just how you can develop your confidence. Be aware of your personality as a person and a player, commit to being fit mentally and physically by following routines, discipline yourself to be positive and productive in the way you think about all situations, and train to be confident under pressure.

In the next blog entry on confidence I will describe how your personality influences your performance and the importance of awareness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Anticipating the Hurdles Teams Must Overcome to Lift the Cup

It is right in front of us; the 95th season of NHL hockey. If you are like me you are reviewing team rosters trying to determine where players moved over the summer, and interested in the rookies that made the squad.

We have a great lineup on opening night. Boston raises the banner after ending the long Cup drought. And, Philly fan is hating every minute of it. The way the series sweep ended last season, actually quite embarrassing, you could see a determined Flyers team come out and catch the B's off guard - who will be naturally basking in the success of last season. Hey B's it is a new season be ready to rock!

Montreal invades Toronto for the Canadian audiences. Both of these teams could be on the outside looking in when April arrives so while it is Game #1 on the schedule they should treat as a game against a team that will be challenging them for the last playoff spot. Believe it or not, big game early in the season.

The nightcap has Pittsburgh going to Vancouver. Hey, weren't we supposed to be watching the Canucks raise the banner and bringing glory back to Canada? Reality can be harsh and in the case of the Canucks this off-season had to be like chewing on sand for four months. I would like to be able to tell you what to expect from Vancouver, but it is really hard to predict. I think Vancouver fan is going to have a shorter fuse with their team and the Game 7 loss only intensified the pressure. The Pens on the other hand are coming in to the season with great optimism getting Malkin back and Crosby soon to follow. Pittsburgh became an outstanding defensive team in the absence of their two superstars. This will serve them well throughout this season.

Every NHL season is a marathon with twists and turns that no one can predict. Who predicted that Boston would be Stanley Cup champions after an embarrassing loss to the Flyers when up 3-0 in the 2009 playoffs? What I will do is try to categorize where I think the teams are in terms of the hurdles they must overcome to lift the Cup.

Avoid the Hangover - Boston, Vancouver
Recent history has not been kind to teams that have made the Stanley Cup Finals the previous year. Only the Wings and Pens have been able to return to the Finals the following year and no team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. The dreaded Stanley Cup hangover looms over the Bruins who basically have kept their roster intact. Boston has to be careful to keep the focus on grinding out wins in the regular season to put themselves in a favorable seed in the post season. Certainly higher seeds don't make a huge difference in the NHL but you don't want to have to face Philly or Tampa first round, and then if you survive Pittsburgh or Washington in the second round. Boston needs to stay focused and hope that Tim Thomas stays red hot.

Vancouver also needs to avoid the Stanley Cup hangover. You might think that losing Game 7 at home would be the ultimate motivator, but again history does not necessarily support this theory. It is terribly hard to skate the marathon that is the NHL season again and then peak in the post season and get back to the Finals. With the intense fishbowl scrutiny the Canucks will be playing under this year don't be surprised if they struggle during the season.

Bounce Back - Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago
This category is reserved for teams that have been to the hockey pinnacle in recent years and then fallen back. The Pens, Wings, and Hawks all have suffered from things out of their control - injuries and a jettison of talent from their roster. Certainly on paper it seems all three teams have the talent to contend, but they also had top players who had subpar seasons. Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Fleury all need to be on their game in Pittsburgh after a reduction in production (much of it due to injury). In Chicago Duncan Keith needs to play like he did in the Stanley Cup season and Patrick Kane needs to a consistent force offensively. And, in Detroit, Zetterberg and Datsyuk need to stay healthy on a team that has lost scoring depth the last few years. If one of these teams' superstars have great seasons (and stay healthy) don't be surprised if they win the Cup.

Looking for the Breakthrough - San Jose, Washington, Los Angeles
In this category are the teams, to me, that have high expectations but feel that have not realized their potential. Every year people expect that San Jose and Washington will win the Cup, and every year they have been wrong. With some changes both teams hope to have the formula to finally reach the Finals and win the Cup for the first time in franchise history. As long as the burden of unfulfilled expectations does not become too heavy one of these teams could finally breakthrough. But, without having a prior history of going the distance both have to trust that they have what it takes. I put LA in this category only because they have so much talent and added more in the offseason. Is it their time to finally breakthrough? 

Put Your Name on a Piece of Tape and Put it On Your Helmet Please - Philadelphia, Florida
The hurdle that both Philly and Florida have to face after believing they had the roster in previous years to win (and Philly was within 2 games of winning the Cup) is developing team bonds and communication with many new faces. Past history tells us that roster shake-ups often don't lead to immediate success but can in the long run. The Flyers did overhaul their roster with the Forsberg trade a few years ago and then promptly made the Conference Finals but that was backboned by homegrown centers Carter and Richards who are now elsewhere. On teams that have experienced many roster changes there is a redefining of roles and a re-establishing of leadership and team norms. It will be interesting to see if the changes for Florida and Philly are for the better, and how long it takes for the team to mesh and perform cohesively.

Are we a Contender? - New York Rangers, Phoenix, Nashville, Buffalo
In this category are the teams that many pundits would say are on the fence and could go either way in terms of the standings. These teams have not had recent playoff success, other than the Preds 1st round win over the Ducks last year, but optimism exists. Out of this group I would say that Buffalo is the most likely to elevate and reach the category of teams contending for the Finals because of their offseason acquisitions. Myers, Regehr, and Erhoff on defense look outstanding and Ryan Miller is good enough to take them all the way. The other three teams still have question marks... do they really believe deep down that they can elevate past the middle of the road teams?

Don't Slip - Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Montreal, Dallas
In my opinion this group deals with the doubt of "are we still as good?" Tampa most certainly tapped their potential last season, and maybe Anaheim as well. Montreal has been an excellent playoff performer the last few years and Dallas has been hanging around. But, these teams did not get significantly better and must hope that internally their players continue to develop or they could be caught by other teams that are trending up.

The Rest of the Field
Look, it is no slight to rest of the NHL teams that I have not listed, but their recent history tells us that they likely will not be a contender in May/June. The field is looking for the right ingredients to have a good start to the season and to build the belief that they can contend. I do not predict much change in the playoff entrants from past year. There seems to be a real divide between the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams. Yet, usually there is one surprise team that makes a run. My two teams that I think believe that they can reach the playoffs despite not making it last year are St. Louis and Carolina. They have had playoff seasons in recent years and have good young players. Consistency is another big issue for teams in this category. Can they avoid long slumps and consistently post enough points in each 5-game block? A lack of consistency and long slumps have eliminated the Canes from postseason play in recent seasons.

There you have it, my thoughts on some of the barriers teams face mentally. While I could have written a great deal on the mental dynamics each team will be facing this season I don't think you would read a post that long. My picks for the teams that have the most formidable hurdles to overcome -

Toronto (fan base asking for too much with too little talent),
Vancouver (the "blahs" after a downright confusing performance in the last two rounds of the playoffs; how do you play that bad when you are one of the best two teams in the league?),
Philadelphia (changing of leadership, great expectations on young players, but they do have Pronger!),
Washington (labeled as the underachievers in the playoffs which becomes a hard label to shake),
San Jose (when will they breakthrough? The window of opportunity is always closing), and,
New Jersey (can they continue to believe despite everyone discussing their inevitable demise).

Enjoy the 2011-2012 NHL season and keep checking back for more insights on the mental game of hockey.