As you probably know, I draw most of my life lessons from my days playing competitive hockey.
To be honest, most of the lessons come not from the times I succeeded, but from the times I failed, blew it, thought the World would end, and then picked up the pieces – usually with some help from my parents, coaches or other mentors.
Today’s story is no different.
As you most likely also know, I chose one of the most lonesome positions in all of team sports, the hockey goaltender.
Standing there alone, sometimes with nothing but your thoughts spinning around in your skull can become tiresome. And let me tell you when things started to go sideways, this guy’s head started spinning like you wouldn’t believe.
I’d often let in an early goal early in my junior career, allowing the excitement of my favourite part of hockey – the player intros, to get the better of me and needing a few minutes to settle into the fact there was actually a hockey game going on in front of me. I also had a tendency to let things spiral out of control, with one goal often turning into two, sometimes on the same shift.
This isn’t all that uncommon to those who watch a lot of hockey, but it can turn the tides of a hockey game, and a goalie’s psyche, pretty damn fast.
So, when I was 19 years old, I left the Western Hockey League after a horrendous 18-year-old season to play with a Tier 2 team in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
As was customary, I had a bit of a slow start to the season, struggling to find my groove. Our team was an offensive powerhouse, so we were winning, but it wasn’t pretty on my end.
My coach and I had a meeting where he shared a trick to help me keep things between the lines. I was at a point where I was desperate since this was supposed to be my bounce back year and it wasn’t going as planned (in fact, I was traded about a week later).
I’d get myself into a real mess thinking, “I could let 20 goals in tonight if I don’t fix this.” Or, “if I get pulled now, after 2 goals in 5 minutes, my goals against average will skyrocket!”
Yeah, I’m weird like that.
Keep in mind this was around 2007. There were no mindset coaches at this time and YouTube wasn’t your go-to when looking for information. I really didn’t have a hot clue what to do and no one seemed to want to help me deal with it.
No one talked about the mental side of the game aside from a few comments like, “you need to have more confidence out there” and “you’re not working hard enough.”
He knew I was getting myself hung up on just how bad things could get when I let in an early goal.
So he told me a mindset trick that I’ve used as recently as this past week. This trick isn’t just for hockey, either. Like most of the lessons I share with you, this one bleeds into everyday life.
To keep me from thinking I needed to climb a 60-minute mountain every night, my coach told me about splitting up each 20-minute period into 5-minute chunks.
Instead of thinking I needed to grind out 20 or even 60 minutes to feel successful, all I needed to do was get to the next 5-minute marker.
But here’s the best part.
If those five minutes didn’t go so well; let’s say I let in a goal or even two, I could simply throw them out the window once the time passed and move on to the next segment.
I actually vividly remember him telling me to roll it up in a ball and set it on fire – I even remember him making the hand gestures and being adamant that I do this in my head.
If those five minutes did go well, I could build on that and use it as a springboard for the next segment, constantly feeling small hits of success.
To this day, whenever I play a “real” hockey game with timekeepers and referees (which isn’t that often), I still use this technique to help keep my brain in check.
And I was reminded of it a few days ago, as I mentioned above.
I’ve been traveling around New Zealand in a camper van for the past two weeks. Actually, I’ll be honest and say we got upgraded to an apartment on wheels thanks to my large frame. It was actually quite comfortable.
There’s really only one reason to travel through mountains and valleys and navigate winding roads in a small semi truck – to see all the beautiful sights an area has to offer.
Part of seeing the sights inevitably involves getting high above sea level and getting the bird’s eye view of all that lies below.
We’ve decided that, even though Kelly and I aren’t seasoned hikers, we’d give a few of the more difficult hikes a shot and see what kind of views we could come up with.
Although the views were worth it, this may not have been the best idea.
Over the past seven years, I have built myself to be a muscle-bound weightlifter. I enjoy moving heavy weight, love the feeling of hitting a new PR and enjoy the physique it gives my formerly lanky body.
Pretty much the opposite of a seasoned hiker who’s ready to climb mountains, pounding out tens of thousands of steps uphill over three-plus hours.
But we did it anyway.
On this day, we were going to hike to the top of Isthmus Peak – a less popular, but more stunning track than the well-known Roy’s Peak near Wanaka in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island.
After about ten minutes, Kelly and I were both feeling pretty rough. We had actually hiked an incredibly rugged track to Lake Marian and got caught in the rain two days before. Of course, just like old times, my head started thinking about how tired I was from that hike and how I wasn’t built for this.
Kelly even mentioned we may be in over our heads.
Were we ever.
Once we actually got to the mountain, the switchbacks started.
And there were TONS.
Switchback after switchback.
Uphill, uphill, more uphill.
It was deadly and seemingly never-ending.
There came a point about 90 minutes in that Kelly and I both needed to stop and re-evaluate. Between deep breaths, we gutted out a conversation and both realized we were using the same technique.
“We’ve just gotta get to that next post up there, then we can rest,” I’d say.
As we’d come upon said post, Kelly would add, “come on, we can get to the switchback.”
We literally spent the next 90 minutes plus coaxing each other up a mountain and resting approximately every three to five minutes, completely out of breath.
We were using the exact technique my coach had shared with my 10+ years ago to get me through a hockey game.
We thought we were going to take well over four hours to complete what was listed as a three to four-hour hike to the peak.
Turns out we weren’t half bad and got er done in 3 hours and 15 minutes – thoroughly enjoying our packed lunch at the top while taking a well-deserved break.
This is something you can use as well, either on or off the ice.
Use it during your next game, only focusing on the next shift. If it doesn’t go well, throw that shit away.
If you make a good play or score a goal, commend yourself and use it to feel good about the next shift.
In the gym, you can use it to grind out a difficult day.
I love training, mainly because of the feeling it gives me. But there are still days I just don’t feel it.
Either I’m feeling a little beat up, not quite as strong as usual or maybe just lazy as hell on that particular day,
So, I trick myself into it.
“Okay, Gav. Just do the warm-up. You have to do that.”
Done. Feeling better.
“Okay, just get your main lift done, then you can call the day a success.”
Or sometimes, on really tough days, “just hit the first set.”
The point is, break down difficult and unwanted tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Use the positives as a springboard to keep you going and take the negatives, roll them up in a ball and set fire to it.
As one of my online clients, Steve, who previously climbed Isthmus mentioned last week, it’s just like Miley says,
“It ain’t about how fast you get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb.”
…One switchback at a time.
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