We all know that hockey is a physical game. What a lot of us fail to realize, however, is that it is also a mental game. A player’s “mental game” relates to his or her mindset and goals when playing and practicing and is every bit as important, if not more so, as his or her physical game. Unfortunately, while many of us are willing to invest countless amounts of time and money in improving our child’s physical game, a lot of us neglect the mental side of the sport, which can equal disaster.
Of course, you can’t improve or hone your child’s mental game until you understand where it’s at. A big part of a child’s mental game is the expectations the child has for himself and the expectations placed upon the child by his or her parents and/or coaches. If expectations are in harmony all around and a child doesn’t feel pressured or overly stressed by high expectations, he or she is likely to be in a good state mentally. If the child has vastly different goals and expectations from his or her leadership figures, however, or if the child is feeling a lot of pressure to play a certain way or to achieve certain goals, his mental game will likely suffer, dragging his physical game down along with it.
If you’re unsure where your child stands mentally, talk to him or her! Ask your child if he or she is feeling stress or pressure. Also, take a good, hard look at yourself and your own words and actions. You may think you don’t put pressure on your child, but if you are constantly critiquing him or her, even under the guise of “helping,” you could be a big part of the problem. Lining up your expectations with your child’s and focusing on being encouraging and supportive can go a long way toward improving your child’s mental game.
Also keep in mind that confidence is key to a healthy mental state, one in which a child can play to the best of his or her ability and be a good decision maker not just in sports but in life in general. You can foster confidence by praising your child, win or lose, on a daily basis and by focusing on all of the positive things he or she gains just from getting out there and playing. Remember, your child’s mental health impacts the way he or she plays the game, so you should make it just as much of a priority as honing physical skills.