Intro to Goalie Management 101 – Managing Emotions through Breathing

Huet dejectedHockey is a game that causes players to experience an array of emotions. In the span on moments goalies can experience: 

Exhilaration from making a great glove save, to;

Dejection from letting in a questionable goal, to;

Anger after opposing player takes liberties in the crease as puck is being covered, to;

Confident after making a few saves in a scramble around the net.

Success in hockey regardless of position and life is about learning to manage and control your emotions. It’s almost impossible to manage thoughts when emotions are spirraling. When emotions aren’t controlled, a goalie cannot effectively play his position which has dire consequences for his entire team. If he’s too emotional, either in positive or negative, performance is adversely effected.

As Dr. Saul Miller points out in “The Complete Player” the phenomenal book dealing with the mental aspects of the game, “to play winningFleury Beat Game One hockey you have to be able to energize, pump up, and attack but also to calm down, regain composure, and play smoothly. As emotional arousal or intensity increases performance improves until it peaks. Thereafter increases in arousal (to the point of over arousal) cause people to get too pumped or tight, which leads to a reduction in performance.

“If you are not managing your emotions, it’s hard to perform your best. Under pressure, many players become anxious, they try too hard, force the play, squeeze their sticks, chase the puck, retaliate, make mistakes, and compound errors.”

How can one control emotional arousal and create feelings conducive to playing effectively hockey? Learn how to breathe effectively. Performance problems typically happen because a player’s mind and body are not performing together. Simply, they are out of sync.

Sometimes a goalie feels his mind is racing too fast while his body seems to be lagging behind. If the goalie focuses on breathing, his mind and body begin to work together.

A goalie sitting in his crease who is worrying is either fretting about the past (examples are a goal scored against him earlier in game, poor performance last game) or the future (examples, whether he will perform well or whether he can make the saves and win the game for the team). But, power is in the present, not the past or future.

As the goalie begins to worry (regardless of either past or future), he needs to begin paying attention to his breathing as it will bring the goalie’s mind into the “here-and-now” world. As he watches the play at the other end of the rink or during a stoppage in play, goalie can shift focus to his breathing.

Without getting too technical for the younger readers, the brain consists of two-halves. One side deals with logic and technical information (helps a goalie read the impending play and reminds him how to respond) while the other handles a person’s feelings and coordination (allows the goalie to respond). Research shows a smooth breathing rhythm helps integrate both halves of the brain which helps improve chances of success for the goalie.

frozen_inside050207Success in goaltending requires the two halves to work more smoothly so there is a balance between feeling and focus. One side of the brain needs to think clearly while the other manages feelings so emotions don’t interfere with the required focus. As Dr. Miller states, “optimal performance occurs when both halves of the brain perform in a coordinated and integrated fashion. Breathing smoothly can facilitate that and contribute to a high-performance state. The complete player has both power and emotional control. Breathing is a key to both.”

So, anytime a goalie is mentally struggling in net, he needs to pay attention to his breathing to get his two halves of his brain to work together better and shift his focus to the here-and-now.

Next Goalie Management 101 entry will introduce Power Thoughts that enhance on-ice performance.

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