I got into sport psychology because of how much I struggled with the mental side of the game throughout my hockey career.
I played my minor hockey in North Bay, Ontario, and, like many kids, my emotions got the best of me at times. I’d slam my stick, doubt myself, get frustrated, and overthink. I went into slumps, I took retaliation penalties, and rode the emotional roller coaster of highs and lows.
However, I worked hard and I was fortunate enough to go in the 4th round of the OHL draft and went on to play 5 years of junior hockey, have a short stint in Pro hockey, and finished my career with 5 years of University hockey. But as I progressed through higher levels of hockey, the mental game became more important, and my struggles became more prominent!
Throughout my career, I was so focused on outcomes and points which often caused me to tense up, get derailed, and underperform. For example, in my last year of junior hockey, I put up 74 points in 49 games. In 20 of those games I didn’t get a single point, while in the other 29 games, I almost always got a point in the first period. The lesson being: that when I didn’t get success early in games, I’d start on a downward spiral of getting frustrated and tense, then I’d play worse and get even more frustrated and so on.
The hardest year of my career was my first year in the OHL. I was extremely excited that I had made it to the OHL and I had big expectations for myself. I can still clearly remember being on the starting lineup in the season opener. But things didn’t go the way I expected. I didn’t produce and fell down the lineup quickly. I started worrying about not producing, which made me hold my stick too tight and made it even harder to produce points. I remember it being about 15 games in and I still had no points, the coach came and told me it was going to be hard for me to get much playing time moving forward. I was healthy scratched 34 games that season and when I did play I’d only get a handful of shifts. I remember we took a road trip up to Ottawa from Toronto and I was all excited that I was in the lineup but come game time, I didn’t get one shift. I sat on the bench the whole game! The lesson being: I finished the season with 0 points and I was devastated. It was incredibly hard to have any confidence as a hockey player and person.
I even considered quitting hockey.
I had worked on my mental game since I was young, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years in my career that I was able to bring it all together. I stopped worrying about what others thought and started to own who I was. Doing this helped me maintain an accurate self-image through the ups and downs of the season. I kept my perspective that hockey was just a sport and there is more to life than hockey. I learned the importance of owning my story, taking responsibility, and focusing on what I can control to make the most out of my situations. I started to manage my emotions, stayed committed to the process, and most importantly, I enjoyed the game that I loved!
After finishing my playing career I continued my education and earned my doctoral degree from York University in Sport Psychology. I now get to take everything I learned from my playing career, coaching experiences, and education to help athletes work on their mental game. This way athletes don’t have to learn the long and difficult way like I did.
The mental part of the game is huge, but the problem that I experienced and many athletes currently experience is that it’s not easy to work on because it is not so tangible and, especially, if you try to work on it on your own. This is why one of the core values that I have is to find simple solutions to abstract problems – which means we use effective analogies, metaphors, and stories to help athletes develop their mental skills and work on their mental game.
The last thing I want to share from my journey is that I believe there is so much more to sport than winning. The greatest benefits from sport are not the accomplishments or championships, but the life skills that we learn. We talk about it all the time with our athletes that these mental skills of confidence, poise, emotional regulation, focus, and leadership will help them perform at their potential in their sport, but they are also key to life outside of sport.