“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from his first inaugural address
No offense to the 32nd president of the United States, but FDR never played hockey.
There’s plenty to fear on the ice — starting with the ice. It’s hard, and cold. And the other guys have sticks. There are sharp blades everywhere. And the thing you covet most, that frozen hunk of black rubber? Pray it comes to you rather than at you. Once it does, prepare to battle to keep it.
But you got over all that in about the first five minutes you spent flying up and down the ice, right?
That doesn’t mean fear, in many forms, won’t visit the rink. Fear of letting teammates down, making a bad play or falling short of your goals can distract from and ultimately derail what could have been a great game.
So, how can we conquer those hockey fears?
Feelings Aren’t Facts
Feelings will come, uninvited. They aren’t our responsibility. Our reactions to those feelings — how we address the inevitable fears and doubts that will crop up — that’s where we have to put in the work.
First, recognize that they will arrive. It’s biology. That “fight or flight” corner of your brain can’t tell if you’re facing down a wooly mammoth with a pointed stick or a mammoth winger with a curved one.
Those thoughts, and more concrete projections (what if I whiff on a one-timer? What if I go into the corner and end up on my butt? What if I take on the fancy dangler and he dekes me out of my jock?) can distract us. Memories of past mistakes can linger far longer than past successes. But recognize that those worst-case scenarios rarely happen, and the time spent fretting about the possibility robs you of the reasons you play — the love of the game, getting better at it, achieving something in an area you have decided was worth pursuing.
Recognize the fears. Realize your tendency is to give them more weight than they deserve. Remember the successes. Remember why you lace up the skates.
Here are some practical ways to deal with any fears you may have:
- Know your purpose. Write it down. Seriously. “I love playing hockey because … ” Whether it’s the speed, the camaraderie or the physicality — or all three and then some — making concrete those sometimes fleeting thoughts can breed gratitude for the game and the opportunity to play it. Positivity and perspective are things to hold close.
- Prepare well. It’s hard to be fearful when you know you’ve put in the time at practice and in the gym, when you know you’ve honed your skills, gotten your rest and properly nourished your body. Preparation doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes outcomes easier to accept.
- Be nice to yourself. Your inner voice is the one you hear most often. It should be a supportive voice, telling you things like, “progress, not perfection.” If it’s a big game, you can tell yourself not to choke, or remind yourself that this is what you play for. If there’s a big crowd, you can decide to be nervous, or to be appreciative of the support.
- Stay in the moment. The last shift is over. The next one hasn’t arrived. Pay attention to where you are now, and get out of your head. It’s a bad neighborhood.
Knowledge Is Power
A scared player is trying to prove something. A calm player is trying to improve something. Work more on all aspects of your game — physical, mental, emotional — and worry less about what others think. Be proactive rather than reactive. Remember, fear is nothing more than False Evidence Appearing Real — and you have the tools to see past appearances.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online hockey shop that offers pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.