Junior A Hockey Pre-season Camps are starting up all over North America. It's an important week for players. For many it is a brand new experience. For others it's a move to a new team. Most will feel at some point that they need to demonstrate that they belong, both on and off the ice. Coaches are forming first and second impressions of the players. They are looking for certain attributes to go along with skills and fitness like mental toughness and focus.
I too am preparing to head to camp shortly with the Cheyenne Stampede as their resident sport psychology consultant. We will integrate many of the things I've been talking about here for the last 6 months into their program. It's really great to be so involved with the team. We will cover topics like emotional intelligence, handling stress, relaxation /imagery rehearsal and components of mental toughness. A real strength of an organization is understanding the importance of all aspects of training and preparation and then actually doing something to build it into the program. This could be strength training, flexibility training, core training and yes of course mental skills training.
One of those topics we will talk about is mental toughness. I thought I would write about today in a little different way. Back in March for JuniorHockey.com (click to see post again), I wrote about the importance of looking at mental toughness perhaps a little differently than many people that teach "Mental Toughness training". I wrote about the importance of PPR. Perseverance-Persistence -Resilience. Today I want to talk about some newer findings in the studies of mental toughness that shed a little different light on MT. These finding do not negate what I wrote about, moreover they point to some interesting things that can help players better understand that they can help themselves through better understanding.
The mind signals fatigue and this is something related to mental toughness. We receive signals from the brain that our muscles are fatigued. This can be misleading because it is based on a mental estimation of our reserves. The misleading signal can be thought of as the signal we get from the fuel gauge in a car. A warning light comes on indicating that the fuel level is on reserve, but it'snotempty. I'm sure you recognize the way you feel when that happens especially if you have a long way to go before you can re-fuel. In the same way, when we receive a fatigue signal we tend to interpret it as a sign that the muscle's energy is depleted when, in fact, reserve energy remains. Note that in your car the engine doesn't stop until empty. Nor do you need to stop either.
These signals origins are acquired and often unconscious beliefs. These beliefs appear to come from the same sources as our other beliefs. Some of them are genetic predispositions and others are learned from our environment. In our genetic makeup, we may have safety reserves that are hard-wired into our brains to keep us out of harm's way. These reserves sometimes go beyond the call of duty; they also strongly regulate our ability to take risks and manage pressure. Having done research in the past on those that participate in risk taking activities I can tell you there is a genetic predisposition. But it is only part of the story.
We also learn limiting beliefs from the environment in which we were grow up in. We obtain a strong and pervasive sense of limitations set by cultural mores, social norms, taboos, the expectations and behavior of family, friends and teachers. These beliefs are then reinforced through practice and that of the people around us, perpetuating a cycle in which these limitations are adopted.
Just as we are born with only two fears, over the years as we grow up we sometimes learn fear of other things. This may be the way it is with this part of mental toughness. Consider the child being told by a parent "aren't you tired, now?" Perhaps the player was on an early team where they were given lots of breaks because they were told not to get tired. All of these things can affect how a person views these signals created by the brain when reserves get low.
One of the ways to become mentally tougher is to learn to become aware of these signals and, when necessary, to override them. In working with athletes I have a series of exercises to help them recognize these signals early and then to understand that they can continue to perform at close to empty for a considerable time. It's not much different than teaching someone how to cope with stress or build confidence. It starts with awareness which is one of the primary constructs of emotional intelligence.
To learn more about how Mike Margolies works with teams please check out his program for hockey teams at http://themental-game.com/hockey/