Just when you feel like everything’s under control, it hits you.
A bad call by the referee.
A cheap cross-check to the face from an annoying opponent.
A bad play on your part.
Even a negative comment from one of your linemates…
Whatever the case may be, you’ve just lost every ounce of focus you had to being with.
If you were calm & collected, now your blood is boiling.
If you were confident, now you’re doubting your abilities.
If you were disciplined, now you’re paying less attention to your slashes & hooks.
Simply put, if you were in the zone, now you’re out of it.
If you’re like most hockey players, distractions like these—however big or small they may seem—can shut you down for the night.
I’m not kidding. Distractions can rip great performances right from underneath you if you’re not careful.
And I’m not just talking about what happens on the ice—even off-ice distractions can destroy your focus if you don’t know how to deal with them.
Luckily, there’s one easy way to make sure you stay completely focused throughout an entire hockey game.
It has to do with the way you think, and just a little tweak to this way of thinking can make a huge difference in your ability to focus for a full 60 minutes (and well into overtime if need be!).
In this article, I’ll teach you how to switch your way of thinking so that dealing with distractions and remaining focused for an entire hockey game isn’t so hard anymore.
All those bad calls, negative comments, mouthy opponents and bad decisions with the puck won’t get under your skin any longer.
If you have trouble focusing during your hockey games, I urge you to read on…
Maintaining Focus in hockey
There’s really only one thing you have to understand in order to maintain your focus throughout an entire hockey game: the difference between outcome thinking and task thinking.
A hockey player that focuses on the outcome of his performance practices what’s known as outcome thinking or result-driven thinking.
Simply put, outcome thinking is when your main focus is your performance.
By focusing on performance above all else, you subconsciously put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform. As a result, distractions of any size have the ability to seriously affect your focus.
When your focus is affected, you start to think irrationally and make bad decisions. It can even turn into a never-ending spiral of negativity…
Your self-confidence can start to tank (passes that you usually make with ease seem impossible).
Your emotions can run wild and get the best of you (you start to retaliate when you usually wouldn’t).
Your decision-making takes a big hit (you turn the puck over more than ever before).
This is what happens when you focus on the outcome.
Instead, you should focus on the task at hand.
What you want to be doing in order to maintain your focus throughout an entire hockey game is to focus on the task at hand.
That means forgetting about that goal you need to score.
It means forgetting about what your teammates will think of you if you make a mistake.
It means forgetting about anything and everything except for what you’re doing in the moment—the task at hand.
When you’re on the ice, focus on the NOW. When you’re on the bench, focus on your in-between shift routine.
And even before your game—don’t overthink things. It’s one thing to go over game notes and make sure you’re well prepared for your opponent, but I’ve seen some guys take it to another extreme by literally studying the game sheet and quizzing themselves on the game plan. All to make sure they perform adequately and that the outcome is positive.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but don’t do that.
Forget about all the external factors and simply focus on the job you have to do in the moment.
For me, as soon as I tape my stick in the locker room, it’s my cue to focus on the task at hand. Nothing else matters except getting geared up and clearing my mind. Then, all my focus is on my first shift. Then, my second….third…etc.
By focusing on the task at hand rather than the outcome, the result, or your performance, you take away all the added pressure and allow yourself to “just play“.
Focus on the task by:
- Focusing on YOUR game
- Focusing on YOUR task
- Focusing on YOUR moment
- Focusing on what YOU control, and eliminating all else from your mind
How to switch to a task-focused mindset
Now, I know focusing on the moment and ignoring all external factors & distractions is challenging. If it weren’t, we’d all be professional athletes :).
That’s why I want to share a quick tip with you to help bring you back to task-focused thinking when your mind starts to drift—Dr. Goldberg calls this “Focus Time Travel“.
He suggests that whenever you find yourself thinking of something in the past (a bad call, a bad play etc.) or in the future (your homework, next week’s game etc.), to immediately bring yourself back to the present—the task at hand.
It’ll take some practice before you’re able to notice when your mind drifts in order to re-focus, but it’s an extremely important skill to have.
Here’s how you can start…
Using keywords to re-focus
Back in Junior, we were lucky enough to get help on how to master our mental game.
Once of the things I learned that helped me the most was using keywords to help me re-focus—much like Dr. Goldberg’s “focus time travel” concept.
Whenever I found myself focusing on anything other than the task at hand, I would use the keyword “Reload” to get my mind back on track.
Reload meant reboot. Refresh. Re-focus!
It meant that nothing else mattered except my next shot, my next shift, my next hit, or whatever the case may be.
Whatever bad play I made, whatever my opponent yelled at me after the whistle, and whatever bad call the referee made simply didn’t matter after I told myself to “Reload.”
I know it sounds funny—who talks to themselves right?
All the time. And it’s only the mentally strong athletes that make it somewhere, so talk to yourself!
Players—use keywords to help you re-focus when your mind drifts elsewhere than the present moment.
Coaches—introduce a team keyword to help calm your bench down when things get emotional. Have your leadership core lead by example and use the keyword when necessary.
My old coach used to tell us to control our emotions—to never be too high or too low.
Proper focus helps you achieve that important balance.
So there you have it.
The key to staying focused for an entire hockey game relies on your ability to switch from outcome or result-driven thinking based on your performance, to task-focused thinking based on the job you have in the moment.
The past doesn’t matter.
The future doesn’t matter.
The people around you don’t matter either.
If you focus on you, your game, and your task in the present moment, you’ll be 100% focused on what matters.
And the funny thing about all this is…
Without focusing on performance, you’ll inevitably perform at your best.
Give it a try. I guarantee you’ll perform better.
Know anyone who might benefit from reading this article? I’d appreciate it if you shared it with them!