AHCA – Paul Dennis Psychological Performance

Paul Dennis is the Player Development Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spoke about Psychological Performance and what it takes to perform at your best. He focused on affirmation vs doubt and how focus on failure results in failure. He advocated for spending time on mental training and working with your players to help them achieve their best performance. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:

– There are two games: the game vs your opponent and the game inside your own mind

– A busy mind = variable performance

– Confidence, coping with pressure and mental toughness are the most important traits of successful athletes

– “Always prepare for the moment, don’t wait for the moment to prepare” – George Armstrong

– “The separation is in the preparation” – Russell Wilson

– Gamer vs Victim Mindset: A victim has an outside-in approach, focus on what they can’t control; Gamer has inside-out approach, chooses to do what he can do, bring it every practice

– Emotions are contagious, we respond to each other’s feelings. The leader often sets the emotional tone for the group – leaders need to manage their feelings well

– It is important to take care of yourself as a leader – rested, physically fit, eating well. Stress depletes our willpower, diminishing our ability to control our emotions. The more you take care of yourself, the stronger your willpower will be.

– Playing to Win vs Playing Not to Lose: soccer players taking PK’s scored 92% of the time when scoring gave their team a chance to win but only 62% when missing created a threat of a loss. Playing to Win creates a challenge mindset, keep the foot on the gas and challenge players to rise to the occasion. When threatened (ex. losing), we program ourselves NOT to do something

– We want struggling players to “try harder” and think they’ll break out of it. Rather, we need them to “think less” – previous failures are entering their mind and they are focusing on what NOT to do, rather than challenging themselves

– Self-Talk is critical to performance: Instructional is beneficial for precision-oriented tasks, Motivational is beneficial for nerves and high pressure

– To affirm your decisions and direction, ask yourself: Am I doing…the right thing? at the right time? in the right way? for the right reasons?

Goaltenders – Playing on the Edge

Anyone who has played, coached or worked in hockey knows that being a goaltender is different from any other position in any other sport. All eyes are on you to not make a mistake. Perfection is the goal, yet is seldom obtainable. You are measured not by how many times you succeed, but by how many times you fail. A starting goaltender will often play 80-90% of his or her teams minutes over the course of a season.

For these reasons, goaltenders have to be able to welcome and invite pressure. They have to embrace the challenge and learn to play on the edge. The mental game is the heart and soul of the position. It is a fine line between being sharp and being jittery, between being calm and being too relaxed. The “Edge” for every goaltender is going to be different, but every goaltender must find that edge where they are mentally and physically at their peak. Every successful goaltender I’ve ever worked with has known their edge and how to get to it without going over.

What is the “Edge?” It’s the point where “I don’t care if I give up a goal” meets “You’re never going to score on me.” It’s where “Holy crap I have to play great for us to win” meets “I’m the best goaltender in this league.” The “Edge” is the intersection between serenity and anxiety, a state of hyper-alertness where you can confidently welcome new challenges without dwelling on the past.

How do you get to the “Edge?” Every goaltender, just like every person, is different. Some listen to music. Some visualize. Some watch film. Some use routines. You shouldn’t be too nervous or too relaxed. It doesn’t matter what gets you there, what’s important is that you can get to a place where you feel confident and ready to play at your peak.


Thoughts from the MLB Postseason

In no particular order:

  • The mental side of the game is a major component of success in MLB – amazing how these guys embrace the pressure and thrive in key situations
  • Take what is given to you – a pitcher will pitch to a batter in a certain manner to create a desired result. Successful batters understand this and try to do the best they can in the present situation, a great lesson for any sport. Don’t try to pull a pitch that is low and away
  • Situational awareness is critical. You have to always know the score, the outs, where the runners are, the type of hitter who is at the plate. Understanding situations and putting yourself in the best position to succeed
  • A game of percentages. Baseball is a game of odds, percentages and statistics. You try to do everything in your power to put yourself in a position to succeed, and accept that failure (making outs) is also part of the game. In a game where 66% failure over your career makes you a Hall of Fame candidate, it is important to learn how to move beyond failure and play the percentages to be successful
  • A series of small successes leads to big success. The announcers used the phrase “And the line keeps moving” last night when one team was in the middle of a stretch of hits. They were doing one thing at a time to chip away, create offense and eventually score a run – similar to hockey. You don’t have to score every shift, just keep the line moving and move the puck from zone to zone every shift. Keep moving forward

The MLB Postseason is a great environment to see athletes perform under pressure. Now only if the games were shorter than 5 hours…

Game 6: All About the Mindset

Like most people, I was impressed by the Blackhawks comeback win to clinch the Stanley Cup last night. Reflecting on the game and the win, I realized I shouldn’t have been that surprised. The Blackhawks won, not because of anything technical they did, but because of their mindset and approach to the game.

After the first period, shot attempts were 32-8 for Boston. Chicago was being outplayed – badly. But they went into the locker room only down by one goal. Mentally, they were in a pretty good spot. They knew they were outplayed, but they had the confidence that they were able to keep Boston at bay despite not having their best period.

After the second, the game was tied 1-1…a huge confidence boost for the ‘Hawks. They fought through two sub-par periods and after 40 minutes they were tied with an opponent who was outplaying them. As a coach and a team, this is a confidence builder. When you know you can hang with your opponent, you just have to keep fighting until you find your game.

When the Bruins took a one goal lead and time wound down, you could see the Bruins body language relax just a little. Tuuka Rask was playing well (again) and they had been the better team all night. Meanwhile, Chicago became a little more aggressive, working to get pucks in deep and go chase them. Being the aggressor builds confidence, as teams hate having to break out against a potent forcheck time and time again.

Finally, when Chicago broke through for the first goal, you could almost feel a huge momentum swing. The Bruins were trying to talk themselves off their heels and stop playing defensive, while the ‘Hawks were getting up and making plays. The pressure of the game had shifted to the home team and all Chicago had to do was put pucks on net and get to the dirty areas.

While execution and a few fortuitous bounces certainly helped, the mindset and mental approach that Chicago had throughout the game was the ultimate difference and why they were able to stage a miraculous comeback and put an end to such a great series after 6 game (and a few overtimes).