Turning Goaltending Failure into Success: Monnich’s Mental Game

Turning Goaltending Failure into Success: Monnich’s Mental Game

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As an ice hockey goalie, coach, and sports psychology consultant, I work with athletes, predominantly ice hockey goaltenders (goalies). These are the players who must constantly deal with failure, being scored on, and the resulting reactions. There are many people goalies are mindful of when they “fail.”

  • The crowd (disappointment, scorn, derision)
  • Parents (embarrassment, negative criticism, scorn)
  • Teammates (disappointment, scorn, derision)
  • Coaches (judgementalism, disappointment, scorn, derision)
  • Themselves (disappointment, scorn, derision, low self-efficacy, loss of confidence, and resulting creative mortification).

Ronald A. Baghetto, PHD (internationally recognized expert on creative thought and action in educational settings) states that, “creative mortification is the loss of one’s willingness to pursue a particular creative aspiration following a negative performance outcome.”

My role is to teach these athletes how to manage failure, and in the face of it, continue to perform up to their potential.

I explain to each goaltender that they compete in a sport that is predicated upon their failure. Their role is to keep the other team from scoring, but the game could not exist if goals were not scored. In fact, their position has become so effective, due to specialized coaching, that at the National Hockey League continues to alter the rule book to restrict goaltender’s range of movement and size of protective equipment, and has even proposed enlarging the nets in order to facilitate higher scoring across the league.

One of the biggest issues that I encounter, as a sport psychology consultant and mental skills coach, is the struggle that these athletes, at every level, have with getting scored on. And subsequently, the resulting stresses based upon external pressures. Internally, the pressure that these athletes place upon themselves to succeed results in immediate negative emotional responses. This is usually anger, which further diminishes their immediate level of performance.

When a coach, parent, or the athlete, themselves, is told after a failure that, “you need to be better,” or “you are better than that” something switches on in the athlete’s mind. They internalize the attribution for the negative performance. They are embracing, cultivating, and reinforcing a fixed mindset, whereby every success or failure is a reflection of the fixed immutable nature or skill of the individual. In other words, “If I fail, I am a failure.” In light of this, they do not believe that anything can really change. I’ve seen the scenario many times: An athlete reinforces the idea that if he/she fails, he/she is a failure. They lose their self-efficacy for the sport, and tend to drop out.

In addition to that sense of failure, there are other layers to this mantra that may effect the entire team. When a goalie is scored on, they will likely be embarrassed. They will respond to that embarrassment with anger, at themselves and perhaps their teammates who failed on a play. They might yell at their teammates. They might curse and shrug their shoulders. They might bang their stick on the ice or the net, sometimes even breaking their stick in frustration with a baseball bat swing into the net post.

More often, they are sincerely emotionally upset. People feel they must act out in this way to convince the coach or their team that they care enough. However, these emotional outbursts tend to raise their level of arousal beyond their zone of optimal functioning, resulting in diminished performance. With each successive goal the goalie’s performance spirals out of control resulting in a “meltdown” and getting replaced by his goalie partner, resulting in further public humiliation. If his failures are egregious enough, this can lower his self-efficacy to the point of experiencing a slump.

My role is to cultivate in these athletes a growth mindset, propelled by intrinsic motivation, in which they view failure as only an opportunity for improvement. In fact, I teach these athletes that the game, which their head coach considers of primary importance, is (in the broader consideration of their hockey careers) only a test of their skills. Failure (being scored on) is the revealing of a weak link in their performance that they can take back to their practices in order to resolve and become stronger, and increase their potential. The game is only an indicator, and when the goalie embraces this intrinsic motivation to improve, their success follows.

To identify and reinforce the external attribution of the negative performance outcome, I explain to the goalie that the only reason the puck goes into the net is because of a technical breakdown on the goalie’s part. It has nothing to do with the athlete’s personality, or who he or she is. It is only technical. Sometimes, it’s just because of a damn good shot by the opponent (sometimes we have to credit them for their skill). Thinking in this mindset of “technical” allows the goalie to identify trends that he can work on.

I instruct goalies to not move from their positions if scored on. If a goalie feels the need to bang his stick, or say a curse word, he may do so, but only once. That way, he can blow off that emotional pressure. Immediately after that, the goalie needs to get back into game mode and try to determine why the puck got past him.

Was it positioning? Did he give up a bad rebound? Did he lose sight of the puck? I tell goalies to make an intentional mental note of this. I tell them to make a little adjustment, to put them in the correct position. Then, they need to take a deep cleansing breath, and say “focus on the next shot.” In this way the goalie is externalizing the attribution for the negative performance outcome. They respond to their emotional disappointment, without indulging it further and spiraling into a mindset of victimization. They shift or reset their mindset into looking for the cause and means of correction, and then clear their mind and reset for the next shot.

I encourage goalies to keep a game journal where they can record their goals against and share this with their goaltending coach every week. This provides the coach with a guide for targeting weaknesses to resolve through adjusting the goalie’s save response and practice. It also reinforces what the goalie can work on.

It’s not easy to face our failures, and even harder to accept our weaknesses. But everyone has weaknesses. Joseph Campbell said “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.” By adopting this growth mindset, we are able to accept our negative performance with an external attribution thus avoiding a fixed ability belief and the resulting creative mortification.

About author
Ted Monnich

Ted Monnich

Ted Monnich has been involved with all levels of ice hockey goaltending for over 40 years, and in six countries in North America, Europe and Asia. He has served as Head Instructor at Puckstoppers Goaltending School in London, ON, coaches at Goaliepro Consulting Oy in Helsinki, Finland, and lectures and coaches at GDI USA Regional and National level events. Ted currently works as Mental Training Coach and Goaltending Consultant with teams, coaches, and players in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, NAHL, USHL, and NCAA. Ted provides mental skills training and goaltender consultation to amateur and professional athletes, ensuring that they are as well prepared mentally, as physically, for the rigors of their sport. As a retired goaltender Ted understands, first hand, the demands of the position. He talks the talk and walks the walk. Ted has a Master of Science degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology, and is studying for his Doctoral degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Ted is a Contributing Author to InGoal Magazine, and has appeared on NHL.com. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and resides near Charlotte, NC.

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