Is It All In Your Head?
What percentage of goaltending success is mental?
Did you know that if you ask an individual to exercise a muscle group to exhaustion – to the point where they cannot possibly do one more rep even if their life depended on it, but then apply an electrical impulse to the muscle, it will continue to contract.
In other words, you circumnavigate the nervous system and apply a direct and external depolarization (electrical impulse), which is how nerves activate muscle fibres, and you can get an exhausted muscle to do more work.
Am I suggesting that this is just mental weakness on the part of the subject? No, not entirely. There could be an exhaustion of the motor pathway by some other mechanism, but we have all heard stories of people summonsing super human strength to perform unbelievable feats.
Okay, let’s step back a bit now and think of the role that mental strength plays in the success of a goalie, not in terms of their neurophysiology necessarily, but in terms of their ability to focus and when necessary re-focus.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nashville Predators Goaltending Coach Mitch Korn a few weeks ago and our conversation kept turning to the mental aspect of the game. During the conversation, Mitch shared some of the ‘tricks’ he used to get a goalie re-focused when the game gets off to a rough start or when their season goes into a slide. It was really incredible stuff and I am glad I had the tape recorder running when we were talking – more about how to get your hands on this Insider Interrogation with Mitch later in this post.
The thing that struck me the most when talking with Mitch opens the interview. I congratulated him on a shut out win for the Preds the night before and he was very quick to point out, that yesterday’s game stays in yesterday. Games from the past have no bearing on games of the future, whether they are wins or losses. The goal on a day-to-day basis is not to win the next game, but to prepare to the best of your abilities. Your goal during a game is not to win, but to be in position, to anticipate based on your preparation and to battle for every puck.
By focusing on the score or the potential outcome of the game you are taking away valuable mental resources from the task at hand, so here is my challenge to you heading into the play-offs over the next few weeks.
Change the game – change what represents a win to you. We have all seen games where a goalie plays an outstanding game, but his or her team goes on to lose 1-0. Should the goalie be disappointed with their performance? Or the goalie who wins a game 8-6 – should he or she be please with their performance? Probably not.
So I want you to re-frame your measure of success. I first discovered this technique completely by accident. I worked at a facility where I really liked some of my co-workers, but there were some that gave me a huge pain in the @ss. One day we were out after work just playing pick up Ultimate Frisbee (a great game if you have never seen it before – kind of like soccer played by throwing a Frisbee except you cannot run when you have the Frisbee, you must pass it), the pain in my @ss was on the other team and we were paired up for man-to-man defense.
This may not be very sportsmanlike, but I wanted to demoralize her – I wanted her to leave the field that day thinking – why did I even bother going out there. I changed the goal of the game. I did not worry about how many points we scored, I changed my measure of success. In that match, my measure of success was ensuring that she did not get to touch the Frisbee – not even once! My goal was to cover her so well that no one would dare even throw the disc in her direction.
I ran my butt off, I was so focused on covering her and at the end of the game she had not touched the disc and our team won the game – it was awesome. Even if our team had lost the game, I would have been happy because I achieved my goal, but I think my process goal helped ensure the team’s success.
This story and this strategy illustrate the difference between a process goal and an outcome goal. I had a process goal (although my motivation that first time was not coming from the right place) – to cover my opposition so well that they were effectively useless to their team on offense. This contributed to the overall success of my team.
An outcome goal is something like – I want to get a shutout or I want to win the league championship this year or I want to be the tournament MVP.
You cannot control outcome goals – you may play better than you have ever played before, but some guy goes off and scores 13 goals in one game at that tournament and there go your hopes of being the MVP. You can only control what you can control.
Having a process goal however leads you step-by-step toward success. Let’s look at our examples from above:
Outcome: I want to get a shutout.
Process: I am going to be aware of my mental chatter and keep it focused on coaching me through my proper movement patterns instead of criticizing myself
Outcome: I want to win the league championship.
Process: I am going to commit to my off-season training, I will not skip training days and I will keep up with two in-season workouts each week so I am still playing healthy and strong at the end of the season.
Outcome: I want to be the tournament MVP.
Process: I am going to be quick to recover after each shot and get right back into my ready position, even if I think the scoring threat has passed.
So make sure you have at least one process goal every time you step on the ice, whether it is practice, a game or even your off-ice training session. This skill takes repetition to master, so start now. This is one thing you can all do better for play-offs, so start today.
If you want to hear my GoalieTrainingPro Interrogation with Mitch Korn you can hear the entire recording, download it to your computer if you wish and have a written transcript to read over if that suits your style a little better. The interview lasts about 35-minutes and I am offering it at half price for the first 75 goalies to check it out. You can learn more here – Get Inside The Head Of An NHL Goaltending Coach