Some time ago I happened upon an interview with the “mental skills coach” of the New Zealand “All Blacks” famous rugby team.
The article begins with the headline “Make Mental Strength Your Strongest Skill”. In the article, he attributes the team’s phenomenal success, for the most part, to each individual’s “mental toughness”. Understand that the “All Blacks” are a premier professional team (and so not unusual to find a “mental skills coach” as part of their staff). But, when you think of the disproportionate amount of the time & effort we, as coaches, put into physical skill & technical development versus the time, on average, a goalie spends developing his/her mental skills it is easy it is to understand why many a goaltender can go through extended periods of time playing well below their capabilities if these skills are not developed. I am not saying that better mental skill training and mental toughness is the answer to every goaltender’s performance issues, but, when you think of the number of above average skilled goaltenders who have never developed to their full potential because of lack of mental skills it is easy to understand how important these skills are for success.
The position of goaltender, has some unique pressures which very few, if any, who have not played the position fully understand or appreciate. It is really the weight of expectations. And is it a very, very heavy load. But, fortunately, one that most goaltenders enjoy having the opportunity to play such an important role in the success of their team.
So, what really is “mental toughness”. Mental toughness is described in the following as the capacity of an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges, and
perform to the best of their ability, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Mental toughness is not something that everyone is born with. It is developed over time and through experiences. It is understanding that one must “stay the course”. Giving in is not an option.
It is understanding what the reality of the situation is and exactly what your job is. It is maintaining focus and dealing with one moment one after another & not getting ahead of yourself spending precious time & energy thinking of consequences.
In the “heat of battle” here are some quick things we can do when our “Mental Toughness” is challenged
- Let go of the miscue/distraction and stay in the present (park it!)
- Take a deep breath, relax your body part by part (I'm not one much for the "water bottle squirt" bit) and reset by recapping in your mind what happened and how you might have prevented it from happening (or not)
- Eliminate any negative thoughts & focus on the present
So how do we develop “Mental Toughness”
Well the first thing we need to do when we are faced with adversity is understand that by facing and accepting the challenge head on, we are strengthening our coping habit & developing mental toughness and our ability to deal with future adversity and, at the same time, develop our resiliency
Secondly, we need to just “get over it” and focus on the next challenge
And, thirdly, understand what we need to do in a physical sense & mental sense to meet those future challenges