We can’t protect our kids from the ups and downs of sports, and really, that’s one of the benefits of participating in sports because those skills they learn dealing with them are transferable. The higher the level of play, the more important resilience or mental toughness is. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after any negative situation, and it is a learned behavior. It really comes down to having a positive attitude and holding yourself accountable for what you can control.
Players need a growth mindset. They need to be willing to experience failures and setbacks and mistakes. They should expect these things and embrace them. Failure is the first step to being good at something, and there is absolutely no shame in failure. When a baby is learning how to walk, and they fall down, we don’t laugh at them, do we? We know they are trying to learn, and we know they will try again over and over until they are not only walking, but running, jumping, and skipping. It is the same thing with literally any and every skill they are trying to learn. You aren’t a failure if you do something wrong. You are only a failure at it if you never try again.
You have to reframe these perceived negative situations. That overtime loss or that pass you missed aren’t failures. They are opportunities to learn. Angry because the ref made a call you don’t agree with? How are you going to focus that energy in a way that benefits the team or helps you to improve? Hint: It’s not slamming your stick on the boards or starting a bench clearing brawl. It’s also not pouting in your room the rest of the night. Take that amped up feeling and go even harder in races to the puck on your next shift, for example. That is the behavior coaches want to see. It isn’t the mistakes they get upset about. It’s the reactions to those mistakes and what happens next.
You can’t change the results, but you can change what the results mean and how you approach that same threat next time. You can control the input, but not the variables or the output. Remember that not every victory shows up on the scoreboard or the stats sheet. Every time you step on the ice, make it your goal to do just one thing better than you have ever done before. That is a victory. That gets you closer to your goal. You aren’t the plus minus or the save percentage. Those are simply the results you got one time. The next time will be different.
Chances are nearly 100% that you will face the same or similar negative situations again. Elite athletes go back to what they did the last time they had success and do that, and then they try again with the knowledge that they have done this before, and they will do it again. You keep increasing your skills. Competence breeds confidence. Elite athletes keep going until the very last second no matter what.
You also need support and you need to know that asking for help is not a weakness. It takes a lot of courage and strength to ask for help, and no one reaches the highest levels without some help along the way. Make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who help you achieve your goals and who influence you positively and believe in you. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose them wisely. Skip the haters. Don’t give them any power. Take that back for yourself. They aren’t you. They don’t know what you are capable of, and you are on your own path.
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