Blackburn on the Mental Game

Dan Blackburn, drafted 10th overall by the New York Rangers during the 2001 NHL Draft and considered by many to be the heir apparent to Mike Richter in the Rangers net, recently wrote an article for The Goalie News about the necessity of developing mental strength for goalies. Certainly Blackburn knows about the importance of the mental game as he was “thrown to the wolves” playing for a weak Rangers team in Madison Square Garden as an 18-year old, and, unfortunately had a career-ending injury while preparing for the 2003-04 season.

 

While he was playing for the Rangers I recall thinking he was a special player to be so young and handle the pressures of playing in New York with such composure. It is great he writes for the fantastic goalie magazine on such an important, and overlooked, aspect of the position.

 

A goaltender’s mental game is what separates greatness from mediocrity. It is common place to hear scouts, agents, or coaches mention a goaltender’s strong poise or his ability to remain calm under pressure. These skills allow the goalie to feel comfortable and ready to play a great game

 

A goaltender’s mental game is what separates greatness from mediocrity. It is common place to hear scouts, agents, or coaches mention a goaltender’s strong poise or his ability to remain calm under pressure. These skills allow the goalie to feel comfortable and ready to play a great game.

Of all the different facets of goaltender development, the psychology of the game is very often overlooked and undervalued. However, like many of the other dimensions in goaltending, it is a skill that can be nurtured. When mental skills are successfully implemented, they can improve your game exponentially… here are the top 5 reasons to work on your mental game: 

1. Increased Consistency – Eliminate the rollercoaster highs and lows in your season. Every goaltender has both good and bad games throughout the course of a hockey season, but greatness is achieved when there are far more peaks than valleys. Developing a strong pre-game routine will allow you to enter each game in a calm and assertive manner.

2. Improved Focus – No longer give-up goal after goal or respond poorly after one bad goal. Most goaltenders wish they could “have one back” from time to time, but regrets only hinder your game. Develop positive self-talk habits and you’ll soon learn to be able to forget the past and focus on the next shot. Do not allow self-deprecating thoughts to creep into your mind. While this takes practice and consistency, in the long run, you will learn to continue moving forward and focusing on what you can do now instead of what you should have done then.

3. Increased Confidence – Developing or allowing doubts to invade your mind prior to, during or post performance are all signs of low self-confidence. Confidence is essential because of its connection to other game-related, mental skills. You need to believe that you can use these techniques, and that you can be a better goaltender. Through attention to smaller aspects of your game, such as improved focus, your confidence will subsequently skyrocket. That being said, you can fast track your development by creating your own mental movie highlight reel that you “watch” before you step onto the ice. By using this simple exercise, you will find yourself entering games in a more positive state of mind. This will result in you becoming much more resilient in the face of adversity. Doubting yourself only detracts from the task at hand—defending the net.

4. Coming Back from Injury – Some goaltenders find themselves fully prepared to physically get back into the game, but mentally, scars remain. Injury can hurt confidence, generate doubt during competition, and cause a lack of focus. Avoid this by following rehabilitation exercises and regaining your strength so that you feel comfortable going back into the net. More importantly, using visualization and other focusing techniques can help to maintain a high level of confidence despite the layoff. 

5. Find the Zone – “The Zone” is a temporary state of heightened concentration, the feeling when you know you will stop every goal as the puck moves in slow motion. Finding “The Zone” incorporates using all the mental techniques at your disposal to optimize your game play. The overall aim is to enter it more frequently by keeping structure to your mental routine. Whether you are preparing for practice or a game, the routine and the goal are the same- find “The Zone”. The more of a conscious effort you make to find it, the easier it is to fulfill. It’s impossible to play in “The Zone” every day, but you can improve conditions so it will happen more frequently.

 

Blackburn has authorized the Elite Goaltending Blog to publish his articles in the future so please look for more in future posts. He has plenty to say about the psychology of the position so take his words and incorporate into your game. Instantly you will become a better goalie.

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2 Responses to Blackburn on the Mental Game

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