National Tournament Mental Coaching

NCAA ice hockey tournament begins this weekend. There’s a lot of great teams, student-athletes, and college coaches in action battling for the highest prize. Some teams are quite familiar with this time of the year (i.e. BC, North Dakota, Miami…) others are wading into relatively uncharted territory (i.e. Merrimack, Air Force…). Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to wish players and coaches well and to on occasion field a few questions about the post-season mental game.

A big idea that’s been kicking around coaches’ minds is, “What should I say to __________ before his first tournament experience?” A reasonable question, so many players can get a bit mentally off center when the post season arrives. It is certainly a time where probably less is more from a coach. This being said here are a few quick ideas for championship coaches:

  • Notice and manage your own emotional needs. Sometimes there is the urge to say something to a player because of one’s own need to “feel” active when things are important. Anxiety can encourage a coach to get say “stuff” when little is needed.
  • Forget the “this is just like any other game” mantra. This is a lie and players won’t truly buy in. Conversely don’t run around like your hair is on fire because the game is sort of a big deal. Appreciate the energy, excitement, and meaning of the game, simply do not get consumed by it.
  • Forget about telling players how good they are or how they are better than the other team. Encourage them to focus on the simple skills they do well, trust their stuff, and enjoy the opportunity.

Considering it all, basic lessons learned by a player throughout the season and their basic keys to success are the safest spots in which to direct attention. Like most things in life – keep it simple, stay positive, and enjoy the ride.

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