On Being a Goalie: Nothing Else Matters
Life parallels sport
The concept of 'Nothing Else Matters' came to me during a conversation with a young goalie. He said to me that he was, "in a slump and couldn't focus because there was too much going on in his life at the moment." He went on to tell me about his grades, the recent trouble he got into at school and the fact the he still struggled accepting the divorce of his parents several months earlier. That’s a lot of life stuff for anyone, never mind a grade 9 student trying to find his way.
My personal approach to coaching is that we have a responsibility to help young athletes, not just in sport, but in life. You may think that playing goal in hockey has no similarities to the turmoil this young fellow was experiencing at a crucial time of his life, but I see it differently. The fact that he opened up to his coach might have been the only time he was willing to express his emotion and troubles. Along with everyone else who knew this boy, we all realized he was reaching out, and the tell-tale symptom was poor goaltending.
We could relate to each other through our common language of playing goal. He was a highly skilled goalie with a lot of emotion. Along with the inherent pressures of playing goal, he would bring a truckload of baggage to each and every game. He felt the day-to-day pressure from all directions. If he had a good day or week, he would have a good performance; when he got caught up in the hard times of his personal life, his performance suffered.
I remember as a teenager a coach gave me some advice during a very similar time in my life. I was frustrated and in tears going onto the ice for something my father had done. I was shaken up and out of sorts – a mess. Definitely, this was no state for a child to be in under any circumstances, especially just before going in net and trying to perform. To make matters worse, I got my shirt caught on the door as we stepped onto the ice. The shirt tore, I fell, the rest of the team laughed and I lost it. My warm-up that day included a heart-to-heart with my coach. I am uncertain how long the actual conversation was, but the message given to me has lasted a lifetime and became a part of me. A lesson in life, taught to me by a coach, who to this day, has no idea of the impact he made on me. I used the concept every time I played from that point forward. I teach the concept to my children, the goalies I coach and the clients I personally coach.
I would be surprised if you were not already aware of the concept I am about to introduce as most of us have not only heard it in some fashion before, but have probably repeated the mantra in our heads or reminded loved ones of the same concept:
Stop and smell the roses
Sure, this is a clichéé that is widely used in North America. We are all familiar with its meaning, which is, to take time to appreciate a situation or slow down and pay attention to what is going on around you. My coach reminded me that what was going on around me at the present moment was the game I loved to play. It was the time to make great saves and a perfect time to let all my worries of life outside the game to vanish. He reminded me to have fun, that I was allowed to enjoy playing and to remember that for the next hour the only thing that mattered was the puck. He gave me permission to be a kid, and leave my worries off the ice. He was teaching me to be present, stay in the moment and smell the roses, and, for now, all I had to worry about was simply stopping the puck. Nothing else mattered.
Living in the moment and letting go of all the variables that you have no control over parallels sport, especially goaltending. During the time you spend on the ice playing the game you love to play is the only situation your mind has to occupy. Encouraging a young goalie's mental training by reminding them that for the next hour or so, they only have to focus on the puck because nothing else matters is a powerful first step in the foundation of developing a mentally strong goaltender. All the other stuff in your life will continue to be there after the game. The game sets you free by allowing yourself to play as the only thing you are in control of is your thoughts and where to place them, and for a goalie, it is as simple as knowing where the puck is, and to stop it.
This concept teaches young goalies to stay present, focus on what they can control and enjoy the moment. Reminding young goalies on this concept is a wonderful starting point in developing a stronger mind set.