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A Winning Tryout Mentality

By Justin Johnson, Minnesota Hockey Associate Goalie Coach-in-Chief, 09/27/13, 2:00PM CDT

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Goalies need a special mindset to succeed in situations like tryouts.

As the off-season draws to a close and fall approaches, many goaltenders’ thoughts turn toward their training camp or tryouts. For many, all of the long hours training in the heat were buoyed by the motivation of making a better team or taking your career to the next level.

For the past seven years, I’ve worked with goaltenders on how to develop a special mindset required to manage the type of circumstances tryouts present. It is not uncommon for goaltenders, especially those that are inexperienced or highly motivated, to actually sabotage their own performances through their mental approach to tryouts.

Here are five tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls for goaltenders. 

To play at your peak, you have to eliminate the distractions.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but goaltenders often lose sight of this goal by focusing on irrelevant information. This can prove to be very distracting and result in unnecessary mistakes. Examples of such irrelevant circumstances are the political games that surround the teams or judges, favoritism, or even poor evaluation criteria or drills. Each of these scenarios has stolen the attention of many quality goaltenders during tryouts.

Remember, if you are focusing on those obstacles, you aren’t focusing on playing at your peak. 

Concentrate on what you have complete control over.

Make your goal to play at your peak, not to impress the coaches. You can certainly influence what team you make by playing well or playing poorly, but ultimately, you do not have control over it.  It is a group of coaches/evaluators that make the decisions.  If you focus on what it takes for you to play at peak; impressing the coaches or judges will likely happen on its own.

Have realistic expectations.

Having unrealistic expectations sets us up to be unprepared.  Therefore, it puts us at a disadvantage when events unfold that are out of alignment with what we thought would happen.

Goaltenders can hurt their own performance when they think that they should or must stop every shot. Bad bounces and unfortunate or unexpected events are going to happen. They are just a part of the game, and in order to perform at a high level consistently, you need to be able to deal with them.

I have found that the more unrealistic the expectations, the more intense the frustration.  Yes, it is important to have high expectations of playing well, but don’t set yourself up for frustration by demanding shut-outs every time you step on the ice.

Focus on actions rather than results.

Actions are items like movement, angles, save selection, depth, and playing or clearing pucks. In tryout situations, goalies often focus on results (something you don’t have complete control over), thinking that the fewer goals allowed the better team you will make. The more likely scenario is that the goaltender with the most refined actions (something you have complete control over), stops the majority of pucks and will be recognized.

Exhibit emotional flexibility.

Prolonged tryouts or training camps can come with ups and downs. There can be moments of excitement as well as despair or frustration. Goalies are forced to deal with these ups and downs with poise and with grace.

This requires the capacity to be flexible, not allowing one’s emotions to get too high or too low. A great day doesn’t mean you’ve made the team. Nor does a poor day leave you out of the running.  Goaltenders that are able to manage these emotions will be better prepared for the next shot or tryout session.

Set yourself up for success by developing a winning tryout mentality for this year’s tryouts. Focus on the actions that will get you the results you seek. Set realistic expectations, be emotionally flexible, and most importantly if it doesn’t have to do with you playing at or near peak, then it doesn’t deserve your attention.

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