The Game within the Game Part I: What Sport Psychology and Mental Skills Training offer Jr. “A” Hockey Players

 This is Part I of a series of posts I did for Jr. Hockey . I am currently on staff with the Cheyenne Stampede and they asked me if i would be interested in writing some posts for Jr. Hockey. I’m at three so far and it’s been a very nice response.
Are you familiar with the game within the game?  It’s the game we play with ourselves and the one we play against each other.  It’s about what we tell ourselves preparing for, during and after competition.  It is also the games we play with our opponents, and at times, even with our team mates.  It’s about self confidence, stress management, concentration, goals, visualization and motivation.  The game we play with ourselves to best prepare for the game that takes place on the ice.  How we play this game determines how we play the one in the arena.
Are you ready to play?  Do you know the rules?  Are you playing this game with the proper background and fundamentals?  If you’re not, then you really need to get in this game, because in most competitions, whatever your level, what happens in this game determines how competitive you are.  How you play the Mental – Game will ultimately decide your outcome and success in sports, as well as in the classroom.  Striving to reach your potential is about the game within the game.  This is especially true for Jr. “A” Hockey Players and I’ll tell you why.
All athletes deal with stress. Generally it is stress of competition, but life being what it is always adds to the fun. This is particularly true in Jr. “A” Hockey. While most athletes the age of Jr. “A”  players are competing in high school or beginning their college careers, the Jr. “A”  hockey player has all of that and a few additional stressors to cope with. In Jr. “A” hockey, the players are very much like any high level player in other sport. They have school, they have practice, they have a life (revolving around practice and competition), but they also are full-time athletes. Early dry land training, then school, then team or community obligations. Of course we can’t forget about regular practice and games and travel.
It’s quite the schedule for these young men. Not a bad life either for those with dreams of playing at the next level; either in college or the NHL. I know a lot of athletes that would love to be in their shoes or skates.
What is different for most of the young men is that almost all of them live away from home, many from the time they are sixteen years old. They live with families often thousands of miles from  their own, going to strange schools and adapting to a new way of life. There is always the stress to perform, because this is not a recreational or even a high school sport. A player can be benched or cut and have to head back home. Added to this, which in many ways is the easier situation to cope with, the player may also be traded,either because they are doing poorly or because they are doing well.  It is hard to discuss that a sixteen year old player becomes a commodity. Jr. “A” Hockey is Professional Hockey, except for the being paid part. So a player must perform and that is pressure. A player must fit into the team. They must learn to be part of the team and yet selfish enough to have the drive to reach their individual goals, understanding that this very process could get them sent packing either home or to another city. They could go from a 1st place team to a last place team, from a team they are comfortable with and coaches they respect to a dysfunctional family (team) a thousand miles away. Life is not easy for the Jr. “A” Hockey Player, but it sure is fun, interesting and stressful all at the same time. I always tell players I work with (and everyone has heard this before): if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. I usually add that if anyone could do it they would have to invent a new game, because as athletes we would all be bored. Play the game. Live for the excitement and learn to deal with the pressure. It makes you special.
I’ve asked thousands of people to answer this question: Thinking about the worst game you ever played and the best game, what was the difference between the two? Was the other team so much better? Were they more fit? Better coaching? What was it? In almost every situation I have been in, the answer to this questions has been, “it was a mental thing.” I didn’t deal with the stress. I didn’t keep my focus. I was afraid of failure. I lost confidence.  My next two part question is always the killer. So if this is the case, how much of your performance is mental? Everyone answers somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of the game is mental.  So I ask, if this is true, how much time do you spend practicing the mental game? The answer is usually next to no time at all.
The game within the game is all about mental skills training. All of the skills taught in sport psychology are learned skills, and not all athletes learn them along the way. So we can jump-start the process by working on them in the same way that you would work on getting stronger and faster. Practice. In working with athletes for three decades I’ve found that the focus is on competitive stress, but the bad news is it is these other stressors that ruin careers. In teaching athletes to cope with competitive stress and showing them how it applies to other aspects of their life, a great many issues are avoided. When athletes focus on being competitive and on learning to play the game within the game they are also able to succeed in the game we call Life.
Here are a few of the components of the game within the game. There is a lot more, but space here is limited. SO let’s start by focusing on just a few.
Self-confidence:  If you are not confident that you can handle a game or practice situation, then you won’t.  It is a self fulfilling prophecy.  If you don’t think you can, you can’t.  We all grew up with the “Little Engine That Could” story, and it holds as true today as when it was written.  You must feel as if you can do something, otherwise it seems like an accident and you will never be consistent.
Concentration: In Sport Psychology, this skill is usually referred to as “Attentional Focus”.  Everyone says “concentrate,” but what does that mean?  Attentional focus means to focus your attention.  We are all taught at an early age to pay attention and learn that this means to look at and focus on what we are doing.  It points us directly at a task.  I find that when players on the ice have a bad touch, their minds tend to be elsewhere and, knowing that, I can bring them back by getting them to focus and pay attention to small cues related to receiving the puck.
Relaxation: Here is another skill that, when lacking, frequently interferes with play .When a player is not relaxed, they lose the feel for what they are doing.  It is difficult to yell at a player and get them to relax.  It just doesn’t work.  Instead, players can be functionally taught how to relax.  Then, a simple reminder can help them shift their focus and use their training to relax.  When they are relaxed, they will have much more success with their touch, bringing the Game within the Game full circle.  By being relaxed, they are able to focus on their touch and, of course, their self-confidence grows.
Imagination/Visualization: What if we could practice more shots every single day? What if we allow that it takes 10,000 repetitions to groove a movement to a level of expertise? If Perfect Practice really makes perfect, through the use of imagery and visualization we can learn new skills and perfect them faster by using our minds. So let’s use the time we have wisely in order to find success. Utilize visualization techniques for both learning and accelerating your performance–in everything you do.
Student Athletes can use these skill sets both on the ice and in the classroom. Success for the student athlete comes from preparation and performance in both areas. By focusing some of a player’s training on the Game within the Game, results quickly show on both the playing field and in school.
Play with passion.  Enjoy the Game. The one on the ice and the one within you.

This is some text prior to the author information. You can change this text from the admin section of WP-Gravatar  Mike Margolies: Sport Psychology Consultants ; Mike Margolies is a Sport Psychology Consultant, Certified Mental Trainer® (CMT), Author, and Professional Speaker. When you want to be the best that you can be and the one thing you might be missing is the right mental game - what can you do? Well, athletes from all over the country have been seeking out Mike Margolies for over three decades to help them reach their potential. His clients include professional, elite, colligate and youth athletes in every sport. They have sought his counsel and unique teaching style to learn about the game within the game, or what mental training can do to help them become the athlete they want to be. He has trained professional and elite athletes and helped guide many to world championships and even the Super Bowl. Mike has trained more than 2000+ athletes. He has taught at four Universities and completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center. His new book is called The Athlete within You- A Mental Approach to Sports and Business. He currently works with individual athletes, teams and businesses around the world, both in person and via SKYPE. Mike is based out of the Pacific Northwest. Let him encourage you to play the game within the game. The Athlete within You is waiting to come out play. Learn the rules to the mental game to help realize your potential. Read more from this author

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