The Mind Game

I was always thankful that my office in Maine had a couch, and not just for the post morning practice naps. The only thing that should have changed on the door was the title from Head Coach to Head Psycho Therapist.

In recent weeks, I have several conversations and seen some face book posts about the job of a “Hockey Coach”. From the outside it looks like the greatest job ever. Dealing with hockey, the greatest game ever, 24/7/365. Almost like one of those old ESPN commercials with mascots hanging around, your house made of ice and your kids born with skates on.

The reality of the situation for coaches at the college level – especially Head Coaches, is that hockey is only a small fraction of your job. There is the paper work for budgeting, the administrative meetings, recruiting and most of all, trying to manage not only your staff and family life, but also 20-25 young women who all have different needs.

My favourite line to hear form players (and sometimes upset parents) is

“The Coach is just playing mind games with me.”

Bottom line is, after teaching individual skills, tactical play and scouting reports all that is left is the mind game. As a coach you are always searching for ways to get the most out of your players. Is it the pat on the back or the kick in the pants. And each one of those needs to be used differently with each different player at different points in the season or different points within a game. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That is the true test of a coach or as I call the, the team’s head psychologist.

The great coaches know when to push the right button for each player at the right time, but it is deeper than that. It takes time as a coach to figure players out, how they respond to not only what you say, but how you say. The thing as a coach that you can’t control (which is the hardest part for us who like to try to have as much control of the things you can control) is how the message is heard or reacted to.

This is the mind game. Can I convince Suzy that she is better than she is to get more out of her during the game, but then next week can I let Suzy know where she fits into the program and she will be out of the line up. Yes, it is a mind game and the coaches have to play it with everyone on their roster to try to get the most out of their team everyday at practice, every game, every shift and in every situation. The hard part is getting the players to accept the rules of these mind games. They want it to only work when it benefits them or when it all of the sudden helps them, but when it doesn’t work, then the coach is the problem. The mind game needs two willing combatants to be it’s most effective.

At the end of the day, coaches want every player to succeed and be a part of the game and team. All players want to succeed but sometimes have trouble looking past what is going on for them and not realizing the coach has 20+ more of you that they need to deal with and get the most out of.
Any aspiring coaches that read this, take as many Psychology courses and you can, you WILL need them as a coach. Also try to understand how tough a job your coach has to manage the needs of each individual on your team and in the organization as a whole. Understand the coach has to play “mind games” with you in order to help you perform at your highest level – that is coaching.

See you at the rink,
Coach Dan