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How to help a talented player focus in games?

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20 hours ago, Miller55 said:

Lot of really good points made in this thread. To me, this sounds like a lot of nerves and internal stuff. Probably a lot of pressure to perform, which creates anxiety, which makes you overthink stuff and essentially the whole game speeds up (mentally) around you and you lose your bearings and have to figure out how to react, rather than just relying on good instincts that are cultivated through practice. The exact details of what is setting off this particular kid, I can't even pretend to know. But the bottom line is that it sounds like at practice when he isn't nervous, he is able to slow the game down and react properly, without feeling out of control. But when it comes to a game, the nerves get to him and he can't find a way to slow down the game in his head, so he is just afraid to touch the puck and to make a mistake etc. Sounds like you just need to figure out how to get the pressure off of him (or better, how to help him realize that everything's alright and he has nothing to worry about) and help him slow the game down, which will help him fall back on his skills and familiarity with game situations from practice. One way to do this is practicing 3-on-3s, where it's really out of control and he will have to learn to focus his mind and get the game under control mentally in order to manage that type of play. Another is to teach him how to breath and calm himself down

 

This phenomenon was foreign to me as a player who as a kid was always a first line offensive type of guy and never had to question my own ability or place on the team. I didn't know what confidence was as I was never in a position up through all minor hockey and highschool to deal with it - I was always top six guy and I felt I belonged there and everything was "normal" all the time.

Fast forward 20 years and I'd been away from the game for 10 years after starting a career and family, and as I got back into it I was just playing beer league with variety of skill levels and quickly enough everything was normal again.

But then as I started playing again more regularly, I got invited to some more competitive skates, and at one point I'm in a room with a bunch of guys, some ex-pro players, most of whom played at least junior or senior level hockey whereas I pretty much stopped playing competitive after highschool. Now the tables are turned - I'm out on the ice and although we're all guys in our 40s at this point, I'm feeling like my credentials are sub standard vs the majority of these guys, especially the ones that played pro, and I'm doubting myself.

For a couple of games, I'm pretty hopeless. Rushing passes, missing easy passes, not feeling part of the flow. Then I have a light bulb moment - we were all pretty much the same players in highschool, I just went a different path and didn't keep at it like most of these guys did, but we're all in our 40s now and old-farts from a competitive hockey POV, and I told myself I belonged on the same ice and to play the way I would if it was just a bunch of my highschool buddies.

Immediately everything changed. I relaxed and had fun and made nice plays and scored some nice goals and joked around on the bench instead of worrying if I belonged.

So that was my first experience with what a loss of confidence does to a player and it was a real eye opener. Had I not been on the ice with that group at that point in my 40's I never would have understood it, and I had been a decent player and played hockey for 30+ years up to that point.

It's a powerful thing.

 

 

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Have a sports psychologist befriend him without telling him who he really is. Like act as a family friend. Have him do stick handling drills off ice with his head up constantly without looking down and dont change his curve. It’s all about how you approach the game on game days. It starts when u wake up in the am. He’s gotta learn to stay focused throughout the day on game days kind of like psyching himself up. If he’s playing AAA with kids a year older then him, that means this kid is an exceptional player, he just needs to know it’s not just about showing up to the rink on game days and playing. when he wakes up for school he’s gotta realize “ok today is game day, I have to prepare myself mentally” The more he’s focused there won’t be time for him to get nervous. 

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Seems like game conditions are eliciting a fight / flight response.  When adrenaline gets too high from anxiety your flexor muscles tense too much and you choke. Try getting him into a relaxed state for games.  You want him in the optimal performance zone. Just enough neural drive but not too much.  Seems like he is there during practice so you must have him recreate that perception to get into the same neural state during games.  Theach him box breathing,  use relaxation excercises for warm up like static stretching instead of dynamic, etc.  Over focusing on game day may be creating more anxiety.  Just do the same routine as on practice day.

Switching lines wouldn't be bad if you can sell it to him as balancing out the lines, make it about the teammates. Also make sure the others give him as many tire pumps as possible.  Some guys thrive on ribbing from teammates,  others thrive on tire pumps. I have more ideas and resources for you if you want, DM me if you want to chat.

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Or maybe just accept that the kid doesn't have it between the ears yet because he's only 13. Let the kid be a freakin' kid and have fun playing. I mean seriously, an undercover sports psychologist? What if that doesn't work, slip Adderall into his Gatorade?

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12 hours ago, chippa13 said:

Or maybe just accept that the kid doesn't have it between the ears yet because he's only 13. Let the kid be a freakin' kid and have fun playing. I mean seriously, an undercover sports psychologist? What if that doesn't work, slip Adderall into his Gatorade?

This kid is playing AAA with older kids. There’s a reason for that. If he already has confidence issues, being the elephant in the room won’t do him any good. It’s better that no one knows included himself about the psychologist. This will do the trick ! If it doesn’t work , he can always go back to skate with his legit age group. If that was my son I wouldn’t be worried. 

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On 12/25/2020 at 1:50 AM, ProfessorBarDownski said:

This kid is playing AAA with older kids. There’s a reason for that. If he already has confidence issues, being the elephant in the room won’t do him any good. It’s better that no one knows included himself about the psychologist. This will do the trick ! If it doesn’t work , he can always go back to skate with his legit age group. If that was my son I wouldn’t be worried. 

Maybe clear this with the parents first, sounds a little extreme.  I agree with Chippa, this might not be the best situation.  It isn’t the end of the world if he doesn’t play up, no matter what everyone thinks is best.  Lots of time to grow at 13.

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Little late here, but have there been any low pressure conversations with the kid about his performance in games vs practice and what he thinks it might be?

Not a coach, but I work with kids with lots of different learning styles and personalities. As adults, we are often trying to solve problems for kids and remove obstacles and all that without ever just sitting down and actually getting the child’s honest take on the situation. 

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On 12/8/2020 at 5:50 PM, colins said:

 

 

1:1 power skating sessions at age 13 - is that common in your area? It sounds expensive, but more so - it sounds like work more than fun.

Not a lot of kids that age want to spend an hour with an instructor one on one working on fundamentals like that. It's usually the parents setting it up and convincing the kid it's what's necessary to "get better and get ahead". The kids want to be with their buddies goofing around and having fun, in addition to hopefully working their butts off and maybe learning a thing or two in the process during a practice or group power skating session.

Work? You must not know any good skills coaches. Good ones make it fun and it's the best way get improvement.

On 12/8/2020 at 8:04 PM, SkateWorksPNW said:

 

With the 1:1 sessions he has been taking them for a while now, not sure how long, but long before I was in AZ. He seems to enjoy them and the instructor does make things fun for him. The teaching method is very unorthodox and unique, similar to how Katy Jo and Maksim Ivanov really change things up. 

 

You left out JRM. I've heard those guys really rock. 🙂

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I'm coming into this discussion late, but maybe I can offer an opinion based on my own experiences in hockey for the last 25 years.

What you described in the first post seems to fit me well. I've always had decent skill in hockey, but it really only comes out in low-pressure situations (drop-in games with buddies) or practices. Now approaching 40 in men's league, I still suffer from the same issues I had when I was playing in high school. In a game situation I panic with the puck and play the entire time with tense muscles. I can be firing great shots in warm ups, making escape maneuvers in the corner, stickhandling through a bunch of pucks, but when pressure is on I fall apart.

For me it all comes down to anxiety. I'm afraid of looking stupid. I mentally feel like I'm inadequate, so it forces me to be inadequate. I can be coming down on a 1 v 1 with a mediocre defender on the other team, and I get so much in my own head about what move to make, I fail to really make any move, then lose the puck. As a defender, I can move laterally on the blue line with the puck great in warmup. In a game, I flub the puck just seeing someone coming my way, and then it's a 2 v 1 or breakaway the other direction.

Somehow you need to help this player overcome his anxiety and fear of screwing up in front of others. I have a strong feeling that is what this is. It's hard to identify because the player doesn't want to admit to the anxiety. It's taken me 25-plus years to finally admit my anxiety and work to overcome it. Which isn't easy to do when you're about to turn 40 and play against a bunch of 20-somethings. 

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On 2/2/2021 at 1:35 PM, FlyChicaga said:

I'm coming into this discussion late, but maybe I can offer an opinion based on my own experiences in hockey for the last 25 years.

What you described in the first post seems to fit me well. I've always had decent skill in hockey, but it really only comes out in low-pressure situations (drop-in games with buddies) or practices. Now approaching 40 in men's league, I still suffer from the same issues I had when I was playing in high school. In a game situation I panic with the puck and play the entire time with tense muscles. I can be firing great shots in warm ups, making escape maneuvers in the corner, stickhandling through a bunch of pucks, but when pressure is on I fall apart.

For me it all comes down to anxiety. I'm afraid of looking stupid. I mentally feel like I'm inadequate, so it forces me to be inadequate. I can be coming down on a 1 v 1 with a mediocre defender on the other team, and I get so much in my own head about what move to make, I fail to really make any move, then lose the puck. As a defender, I can move laterally on the blue line with the puck great in warmup. In a game, I flub the puck just seeing someone coming my way, and then it's a 2 v 1 or breakaway the other direction.

Somehow you need to help this player overcome his anxiety and fear of screwing up in front of others. I have a strong feeling that is what this is. It's hard to identify because the player doesn't want to admit to the anxiety. It's taken me 25-plus years to finally admit my anxiety and work to overcome it. Which isn't easy to do when you're about to turn 40 and play against a bunch of 20-somethings. 

So now you know it’s all in the head. That’s why a sports psychologist would help the kid the OP posted about. 

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