You can usually tell which hockey team is winning at first glance, even before you’ve heard the score. The losers are the ones with the closed, negative body language: heads down, shoulders slumped, eyes down.
If you feel nervous and lack confidence on the pitch, the first thing to do is avoid this negative, losing body language. Some teams, often the bottom-league ones used to losing every week, have it from the start of the match. To feel more confident…
# Fake it until you make it. Don’t send your opponent, or team mates for that matter, the message that you are feeling nervous and worried. Instead, hold you head up, hold your chest up, shoulders back. Tell yourself ‘I own this pitch today and I’m going to play some of my best hockey.’
# Avoid dwelling on mistakes. Hockey inevitably has mistakes and nobody plays a perfect game so if you mess up and miss a shot, take a breath and move on mentally. Refocus, using positive body language (shoulders back, eyes up, etc).
# If you feel under pressure consciously slow your breathing. When you are under pressure everything speeds up, including your thoughts, movements and your breathing. Take a deep breath, breathing in and out slowly as you wait for the match to start. Take a slow, deep-belly breath. Inhale through the nose and you’ll feel your stomach expand. Slowly exhale through the mouth, as if breathing out the stress. Drop your shoulders.
# Use the ‘thought replacement’ technique to ease worries. Before the match identify the situation where you feel negative thoughts racing through your mind and plan a phrase you will say to yourself to replace those thoughts. Imagine a ‘stop sign’ in your mind’s eye when you start negative self-talk and replace with something more positive.
# Do some pre-match positive visualisation. Think about what you’d like to happen and imagine it in your mind over and over. Close your eyes whenever you have a couple of spare minutes and imagine yourself playing at your best.