How to Play Your Best in The Playoffs
Playoffs are here… this is the moment we’ve worked SO hard for. All year, we’ve talked about winning the championship, and now the moment is here and now is your opportunity that you’ve been waiting for… but, you’re nervous.
Now the moment has arrived, all of a sudden we think, “what if I don’t play well.” Or, “if we lose, we’re out” and the excitement goes out the window. We start worrying about failure, or not playing our best, and we start doubting ourselves.
This happens to A LOT of goalies, and it’s totally normal, so you’re in good company. But, the best goalies learn to use this anxiousness to their advantage. Everyone feels the same fears, it’s all in how we handle it.
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer
Let’s learn to be BRAVE and play our best in the playoffs.
First, let’s change the way we “think” about that pressure. Let’s remember how we got here…
You’ve Earned The Opportunity
The fact that you are in the playoffs means that you had a lot of success this season.
Think of all the great saves you made throughout the year. Really remember these and focus on them. Take some time right now and remember your BEST game. When everything was going right for you…
What were you doing well? Really FEEL those details.
What were some of your best saves? Recall them in detail and relive them.
All of those great saves earned the wins that got you into the playoffs. All of those great moments are why you are where you are. You’ve earned this opportunity. If you’ve earned it, you deserve it. If you deserve it shouldn’t you enjoy it? You’re right where you belong.
You have a great opportunity in front of you. That’s it. Another opportunity to play your best, like you have many times this year.
Remember, the playoffs are WHY we play the game. That’s the fun stuff – that’s what we dream about. We want that championship opportunity and now it’s here.
You’ve proven that YOUR game is enough to be in this situation and do well in this situation so now we’re playing just ANOTHER GAME (not a all-or-nothing game, it’s simply another game.)
The bigger the game, the calmer we need to be
It’s Just Another Game
You’ve played in many big games this season and throughout your career; the playoffs are just another set of games. And you’ll have many more games. As important as this series seems, you’ll have way more important games in your career.
The very best goalies take a very dispassionate approach to their games. (Dispassionate doesn’t mean they don’t care, it means they don’t let their emotions affect their play.) Learn how to approach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup the same way you approach Game 1 of the season.
Playing YOUR BEST, no matter what, leads to a more consistent performance and results.
So, focus on what you do when you play your best.
I got a great idea from Ben Scrivens that helped me play more consistently. He called it the “3 Pillars” and said he focused ONLY on his three pillars, not the opponent, or the importance of the game or anything, every game he focused on three things within his control.
Here were my “3 Pillars” – Confident stance, set for the shot, and excellent tracking, Set for the Shot, what are yours?
Focus on a few small details, that you control, every single game. Then, your “pressure-filled” playoff becomes just another game.
The “fight or flight” response is dangerous for a goalie. We know we CAN play great, now we just want to play great. Anytime we feel stress and tension mentally or physically it will affect how we play our best.
And one of the best ways to avoid that stress is by breathing deeply. Your breath can help calm your heart rate and your mind, which settles you down so you can focus on playing your best.
Remember that we play our best when we are calm, confident and in control.
When we get nervous, we forget to breathe, which makes our bodies nervous. A nervous body is rigid and awkward and it doesn’t work well for a goalie who needs to move fluidly in the net.
I used to take 10 deep breaths while I was stretching before a game and in-between periods. This gave me a nice rhythm to follow. Breathe into your stretches, or even just breathe deeply while you visualize yourself playing great.
The playoffs add pressure and intensity all of which make us anxious, remember, it’s just another game, continue to breathe and you’ll keep your body and mind calm and focused so you can play your best.
Manage Momentum Swings
Because of the extra pressure and emotions in the playoffs, momentum swings wildly. I believe that the goalies (and teams) that best manage their emotions usually win the long series.
Keep in mind that games are long, and series are even longer. When your emotions run high, your skill runs low. You start to panic and start trying to “force’ things. It’s NEVER good to try and force saves.
One goal or one loss is NOT the series – and it’s who wins the series that matters. In a seven game series, it’s a race to four wins, not one, two, or three. So no matter what happens during the game or during the series, stay focused on playing your best and realize that the momentum can swing in a second.
I was almost in tears after a heartbreaking first playoff game in Europe. They tied it up with a couple minutes remaining on a blatant goalie interference goal. Then, they won in OT with another blatant goalie interference goal.
Emotions running high, I almost snapped (think charging the ref)… then I remembered that we would get our breaks too. What message does it send to their team if I “snap.” Worse, what message does it send to our team? It was only game 1…
Momentum swings, and those who control their emotions take advantage of the swings.
Sure enough, in Game 5, we got a call in our favor for the game-winning goal, when it was unclear whether the puck actually crossed the line. We ended up coming back and winning that series. It was amazing. All because we stayed focused during the challenges.
Every team will face a lot of ups and downs and a lot of emotions. The goalies who stay cool during the ups and downs are the goalies who win the series.
If your goal is to win the series, manage yourself through the momentum swings.
Trust Your Game
Let’s recap, we want to breathe to stay calm and confident; remember that it’s just another game just like all the other ones that you’ve played great in; and stay focused through the ups and downs.
Since it’s just another game and not “the most important game of your life” remember that your game is what got you there, it’s more than enough. You don’t need to do anything “special”. Trust your game.
The WORST time to question your game or start to change your game is during a game, or before a game! The work is done. You’ll never be better than you are at that moment if you’re trusting your game. If you’re confident in your game.
Recall all the great things you’ve been doing and smile. Know that you’re prepared. Know that you’re ready.
And always have fun. I play my best when I’m having fun and I bet you do too!
When Michael Jordan was the best basketball player in the world, he would dominate playoff games with a smile! The other teams even called him “The Smiling Assassin”.
That would be pretty cool if the other team knew you as the ‘smiling assassin’ right?
Just play your game and have fun, they will…