Why Mental Toughness Decides Important Games


As you come down the stretch in the season, every game matters more and more. maybe you’re fighting to get into the playoffs. Maybe you’re fighting to move up in the standings to get a better seed. Maybe your season is all but over but you know with tryouts coming up that you need to stay sharp and driven to get the most out of your play.

I just spent a weekend with a team that needed to win just one of their two games to solidify a spot in the playoffs. But just getting in won’t be enough if they get swept in the first round like they did last year. They know they need to not only get into the playoffs but to be ready to perform at a high level to see just how far they can go.

They know that each game from this point forward is essentially a playoff game. A game that will decide who moves on and who moves out. Every shift, every period, every game matters.

So, how do you maintain that level of focus, intensity, and drive over the next 10-15 games?

How do you ensure that you are bringing your A-game each and every shift to give your team the best chance for winning?

It’s all about your mental toughness.

At this point in the season, you are hopefully executing skills at a high level and at the edge of your potential each and every time out. I say at the edge of your potential because we know that there are games when you have it and are playing better than you usually do and games where you are struggling and play below your potential. But what we’re talking about for these next 10 games is playing to your potential consistently.

You have to be as good as you can be game after game. You owe it to yourself and to your team to not under-deliver.

How do you make sure you do that?



Preparing to play is as much or more important than actually competing. Your overall performance will be a direct result of how you prepared your mind and body.

Most think of preparation as what they do on game day. Their routine from the time they get to the rink until the drop of the puck. But preparation starts way before that. It pretty much starts a day after your last game. How you practice during the week is preparation. How you eat and sleep during the week is preparation. How you recover between practices is preparation.

All of this comes together as preparing you to be your best on game day.

So, how do you make sure you’re preparing the right way? - More on this below.


Focus is all about where your head is at. Focus is about being able to put your mind on the right thing at the right time and in the right way. It’s part of your preparation during the week. How is your confidence? Where are your thoughts during the week? Are you still mulling over mistakes or missed opportunities from your last game? Are you stressing over a bad practice you had this week? Are you thinking about where the coach will use you during the game or if you’ll even play?

What about when it’s game time? Are you thinking about your competition or about how you’ll play? Are you thinking about the ramifications of a win or a loss or are you thinking about the PK system the coach wants to use this weekend?

All of this is focus. It’s about where your mind is, what you’re thinking about. And to be your best you must ensure you have a good handle on this.

So, how do you make sure your focus is right so your mind is right? - More on this below.


Intensity is what I call the volume of your actions. What do I mean by that? Think of it this way. Have you ever played a song or video game and the volume is low and quiet? It’s still a good game or song, but the energy created by it is low or quiet. Now play that same song or crank that same game with the volume high and blasting. Totally different feel isn’t it? Your entire body gets into it. You’re head starts bobbing or your hands on the controller become energized.

Now, sometimes a loud game is awesome but sometimes it's not. What if you’re trying to get through a tough spot in the game and you're completely amped up? It’s hard, isn’t it? That’s when you need to calm down. Lower the intensity of the situation so that you can be your best. Does that make sense?

Intensity is a big part of your game. it drives your compete level. It enhances your physical skills. It improves focus (when used correctly), and it lets you play closer to your potential more often.

Being able to manage your intensity when playing hockey is a key ingredient to being your best game after game after game and it’s something that requires work and practice to get good at.

So, how do you make sure you’re managing your intensity to get the most out of your game? - More on this below.


Resilience is what I call bounce. it’s being able to take the hits and “keep moving forward” (said in a Rocky voice while talking to his son in Rocky Balboa 2006). Hockey is a tough game. It’s fast. It’s physical. The competition is fierce, expectations for performance are always high. It’s an amazing game and not a lot of people can play because it is so difficult. And those players that “can’t take the hits and keep moving forward” won’t last long.

So, having the ability to keep pressing when things are hard. To keep working hard when you’re not seeing immediate results. To come back after getting yanked and playing your best game ever. To coming back from injury. To getting demoted to a lower team when you’re doing everything you can to stick with the top team. All of this hurts. It hurts bad. It can be crushing.

And you have two choices. Quit or keep moving forward.

Resilience is you moving forward despite the difficulty. Despite the obstacles. Despite the unfairness.

Like I said, from this point forward, every game matters and you owe it to yourself and your team to be the best player you can be game in and game out to give yourself your best chance to move forward.

Check-in with yourself and ask, “How are you doing in each of these areas we just talked about?”

Take time each week to focus specifically on each of these areas to make sure you have a game plan on how you will handle them.

Make your preparation during the week and before the game as strong as it has ever been. Do not leave anything on the table when it comes to coming to the rink ready to play your best. You don’t want to waste a single game being average.

Remember, I’m not telling you that you need to be a world-beater every time you touch the ice, but you need to be the best you can be. You need to be playing to your potential and that’s all anyone can ask.

You need to make sure your focus and concentration are on the right things in the right way at the right time. You need to know when to go inside your head and when to stay out of it. You need to move easily between sharp-narrow focus and broad-wide focus. You need to maximize your brainpower to maximize your body power and the only way that happens is with focused, intense, resilient effort.

You need to have the right fire in your belly for every game. Too hot and you burn out, too cool and you won’t have the intensity to bring your best when you need it. How you manage your intensity will determine what you get out of your mind and body.

And finally, you must have the ability to bounce back quickly. When the urgency of the situation goes up, so do the stakes of not performing well. Mistakes become amplified.

You know there is no chance you will eliminate mistakes. But how you get past those mistakes and get your head back in the game might just be the single most important thing you do.

Are you prepared to do that? Do you have a plan for how you’re going to bounce back quickly and with purpose so that one mistake doesn’t turn into two or three or a whole period or an entire game?

Maybe you know how to do all of this, maybe you don’t. But those that do are ahead of those that can’t. Those that do are what I call a mentally tough player. Those that can’t I are mental midgets.

And your mental toughness has NOTHING to do with how much skill you have with the puck or how hard your shot is. Mental toughness is its own animal and if you can’t tame that animal, it will eat you for lunch.

During the first part of the season, you had time to recover from a bad game or not playing your best. Now that we’re coming down the stretch, a bad game by you or your teammates could end your season.

Now that’s pressure. And that’s what we’re talking about. PERFORMANCE UNDER PRESSURE.

Do you have what it takes to perform under pressure?

Are you as mentally tough as you need to be?

I guess we’ll find out.

Developing your mental game takes deliberate effort. If your plan is to learn as you go, then there is a good chance you’ll get left behind by the players that make a conscious decision to grow this part of their game.

I challenge you to take the bull by the horns and commit to building your mental game beyond that of your competitors.

GO RIGHT NOW to find out more about how to start boosting your mental toughness and be that player that stands out and moves up in the game.

It’s on you. Nobody can do this for you. It’s time to get tough!

That’s it for now

Coach Kevin

Focus Compete-Level Grit Preparation