Now that I am older and I can look back on my days of playing junior hockey, I can say that I have pretty much been through a lot. Throughout my five years of playing, I dealt with being cut more than twenty times, sat on the shelf for two months while a coach demanded $5,000 for my playing rights, had an owner of a hockey team leave town overnight like the Indianapolis Colts, rode the pine for a year because I was “young” and needed to “pay my dues”, bounced around on six teams in one season, snapped my arm in half and told I was never going to play again, and pretty much had my options taken away from me to play Division 1 because of a terrible high school guidance counselor. Thats before I dealt with the normal adversity that we deal with as athletes on a daily basis. My experience made me realize that every player has a different path to success.
If you’re a coach and you’re reading this, you’re probably saying the same things that I am saying to myself as I am writing this post. “Wow, what a complainer. Poor Me.” I completely agree – and I am pretty sure that you can agree that a majority of your athletes would pack it in today if they had to go through the stuff that you did as a player. Trust me, I know. After I finished playing, I was a General Manager and Head Coach for a junior hockey team for six seasons and I am completely aware about the trend of where the mentality of the athlete is heading. As each year goes on, I can see a trend that has been ongoing as players struggle with maintaining a high level of emotional intelligence and allow the smallest problems to turn into what could be perceived as the end of the world. Each year, the athlete became more emotionally involved with their path than they have been before, causing countless mentoring talks, tears, and one on one meetings that lasted a couple of hours with players that were thinking about quitting.
Because of the problems that I experienced as a player myself, I always preached to my players some of the best advice that I have ever received when I was 14 years old and upset. I made a call to my sister, who at the time was playing NCAA Division 1 Softball at UCLA for legendary softball coach and an overall amazing person, Sue Enquist.
“No matter what is thrown your way and no matter how hard life gets, there are only three things that you can control. Your ATTITUDE, your WORK ETHIC, and the CHOICES that you make.”
At that moment, the light inside my head turned on – I was making excuses to justify in my head that my problem was because of everyone else and not what I was doing. I was creating distractions inside my own head instead of focusing on the things that were important to experiencing success. After six years of coaching, I have mentored many athletes out there that are doing the same thing today. When things go wrong, the first natural instinct that triggers your head as an athlete is “Why?”. Athletes today are spending too much time trying to figure out why things are occurring and how to fix them. Days, weeks, months, or even an entire season will go by and the athlete won’t develop any more than they did at the start of the season because they spent too much time fixating on how to solve a minor problem that they have blown out of proportion.
The purpose to write this article was brought up to me by one of my colleagues that coaches in college hockey. After one of the coaches read a previous post of mine, I was encouraged by him to continue writing since the politically correct world we live in is not giving true advice to athletes, parents, or coaches.
So, athletes… here is the honest truth.
The ONLY way that you are ever going to have success in your sport, or in life for that matter, is if you have a positive attitude and you work your tail off to get there.
Let’s take, for instance, the scenarios below to see what they all in common with each other:
- Your coach or your teammates don’t like you.
- The puck isn’t going into the net or you’re not getting the breaks you want.
- You’re on a cold streak and you don’t know how to get out.
- You’re playing on a team where you don’t like your role.
- You’re not satisfied with your playing time.
- Nobody is knocking down your door to play for their team.
- Parents are playing politics and pushing you out of the lineup.
- Coaches are playing politics and picking players for their teams that have less talent that you do.
- You keep getting beat in practice and you’re frustrated.
- You don’t think that you’re going to make the team and you’re going to be cut soon.
Did you figure it out? They’re all excuses that cause distraction.
Today, too many athletes are worried about what is going to happen to them instead of going out and pushing themselves to failure on a daily basis. When you push yourself to failure and focus on competing in every drill in practice, you tend to not hear a lot of “noise” and you compete in the moment. When you compete in the moment and forget about all of the “political BS” that is occurring outside of the six inches between your ears, you tend to develop skills instead of excuses.
Instead of worrying about playing time, you focus on getting faster, stronger, and quicker.
Instead of worrying about who you play with, you focus on how you can mesh with your teammates.
And, instead of worrying about where you fit, you focus on how you can contribute to the team.
Although it is a simple tweak, you wouldn’t believe how many athletes out there are distracted just by that list of 10 things above. If you’re an athlete that is trying to play a sport collegiately and you are battling any of those above scenarios, then you need to change your mentality. Quit focusing on the noise and focus on the task at hand – to become the best athlete that you can every day.
As coaches, our goal is to take you under our wing and mold you into accountable, resilient, self reflecting people that will go on to be successful in life instead of conforming to a generation of finger pointers and blamers. However, we can only lead you to water – we can’t force you to drink. From all of my experiences, I’ve found that the decision to be a focused and better athlete falls on one person: YOU. I’ve played and I have coached, and every player that has been selfish and distracted that I have come across has never amounted to their true potential. There is no opinion in that, just fact.
Why is your attitude so important?
Your attitude is important because it determines your mindset and who you are as an athlete. If you don’t know whether you have the right mindset or not, you shouldn’t be discouraged as an athlete. Many athletes struggle with identifying who they are as an athlete. During my six years of coaching junior hockey, I would always ask my players one question to put things into perspective: Why do you get up every morning to play the game?
Most of them came back with all types of cookie cutter answers of “because I love my teammates”, or “I want to play college hockey”, or “I love the game”… which are all valid reasons to play the game. The one thing that they didn’t tap in to was the reason why they suit up every day.
Your “why” is not a means to an end nor is it a feeling that you have for the people you play the game with. Your “why” serves a much deeper purpose than that. It is the fire that burns inside of your belly that motivates you to want to achieve more on a daily basis. Maybe its the people that told you that you would never amount to anything and that you don’t have talent. Maybe it’s the gratitude that you feel for the people in your life that took you to practice every day and were always there for you. It could even be the goose bump feeling you have from attending your first pro game or the feeling of determination that you have because you have been cut so many times and you want to prove all of those coaches wrong.
Once you have determined your “why”, you have to apply it in everything that you do in life. Having a great attitude doesn’t get the job done, but having a great attitude on top of a burning desire to play the game is what separates the good from the great. Why? Because those athletes have a purpose and excitement to play the game. They don’t hang their head in failure and always celebrate when their teammates experience success. If you want to make a mountain out of a mole hill when you hit adversity, you can. It can be the end of the world and you can throw your hands up in disgust. Or, you can smile and say to yourself – “You know what, I care more about “my why” than coach yelling at me to get quicker. I’m just going to get quicker.”
Your attitude determines how you look at life. It would be easy to say that your coach is the problem and that its everyone else’s fault, but how does that make you progress as an athlete? Coaches are in your life to find a way to push your buttons and get more out of you. They’re not in your life to become your best friend. Can they become your best friend? Sure. But that’s not their main purpose.
And you know what, just because you happen to have your attitude and work ethic in line, don’t expect to be successful. Developing talent definitely comes into play. You’re not entitled to things in life because you “work hard”. Having a great attitude and relentless work ethic are just two key characteristics in the foundation for you to be successful.
YOUR WORK ETHIC
The second thing that you need to have in order to be on the right path as an athlete is an unwavering passion to become better than the day before. You have to be competitive in everything that you do. Your work ethic is determined by the reason “why” you feel that you have to work hard.
Preaching attitude and work ethic to the next generation of athletes was difficult at times because each year more and more talented athletes are feeling that they don’t have to work hard. When my players would tell me that they work hard, I would ask them one question: Outside of the team practice or team workout, what did you do today to become a better athlete?
With over six years of coaching more than 250 players, I can honestly say off of the top of my head that a large majority of them answered the question with a silent, blank stare on their face. It wasn’t because they were bad kids. It was because the moment served as clarity for them… They weren’t really putting in the work.
Would some of them become offended? Yep – but it was because they were called out on the carpet for their actions. If you’re a serious athlete and you’re reading this, you need to realize that everything around you serves as a distraction towards your goal. This is true especially today where there are so many distractions that are available to athletes. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Xbox, Playstation, Crossy Road… I can go on and on. You have to put these things down and dedicate yourself to become a better athlete, everyday. Just because the weekend comes, doesn’t mean that you can’t put some work in to become better at your passion in life.
Lets just say, for example, that you went on to Amazon and purchased a foot ladder for $30 and for four months in the offseason, you worked relentlessly on foot ladder drills to make your feet quicker FOR ONLY 30 minutes a day. That’s less time than an episode of Judge Judy. What you have to see that the time that you put in becomes compounding development (aka daily growth) and allows you to reach a new level within yourself just over the course of the summer.
If you want to see how it adds up, use this simple formula: (Amount of days that you will work) x (the amount of minutes each day you can dedicate) divided by 60. Your answer will equal the amount of hours that you will dedicate to your development over the course of time. Below is the formula for a four month period where you dedicate yourself ONLY 30 MINUTES A DAY!
4 months x 30 days per month (on average) x 30 minutes a day = 3,600 minutes of development, or 60 hours of training.
Can you believe how that adds up for only 30 minutes a day? Do you think that you would be better over time if you applied that to your daily routine? Do you realize how much quicker, faster, or stronger you would become practicing your vertical leap, or by working on your speed training? Do you think that you would get stronger and quicker? You know that you would.
And I’m only talking about 30 minutes per day… Most players train for an hour to two hours per day. I always told my players that if they wanted to progress throughout the summer that they would have to dedicate at least 1-2 hours per day to become better. As an elite athlete, it is your obligation to do so in order to stay alive and progress forward because there is always someone that is nipping at your heels to try and take your job. If you don’t do the work every day, you’re toast.
But, once again – We can lead you to water, but we can’t make you drink. It is up to you to MAKE THE CHOICE.
If you love playing the game, then why wouldn’t you put time into it? It seems to be pretty logical and make sense. Anything that we truly love in life, we put our total attention and effort into it. But, there are a ton of fake athletes today out there that say that they “want it” and “will do whatever it takes to make it” while they go home and sit on the couch to fire up Netflix and get on the Twittersphere just to #livethedream. They’re not fooling anybody, except themselves.
There is no set path to take to experience success – no matter what any coach that is recruiting you will tell you. You can surprise yourself and play at the highest level without having to play for certain teams or play in certain leagues. There is no linear progression that is a magical path to success and coaches that tell you otherwise are either trying to recruit you to play for them or convince you that their opinion is the end all be all. It’s such a load of garbage and don’t believe the hype.
I know a ton of players that are living proof that coaches who tell you that you have to take a certain path are full of it. You just have to make one choice in life and stick to it.
You just have to make the choice to want to be great. When you fully commit to that choice, you will dedicate your free time to becoming better every day because it is a passion that burns inside to become better. When you tap into why you want to play the game and focus on what you are going to do to become better, the sky is the limit for you not only in sports but in life as well.
There is a choice that we can make as an individual. If you want to be great at something or if you want to be a master at your craft, you can do so. But you have to make the choice to be great. The choice to do that isn’t just making a checkmark in the “I want to be great” box on some ballot. What I mean by that is that there are inherent sacrifices that come along with making that decision. You will have to sacrifice time with your friends, time having “fun”, and especially time with your family because you have to dedicate your time to practicing and mastering your craft.
You make the choice that “come hell or high water – I am going to be THIS.” If you truly want it that bad, you won’t find an excuse but you will rather find a way to make it happen.
Put down the phone and stop following the distractions. Put in the time and start following your reasons. Coach doesn’t hate you and nobody out there can stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. But, you can’t be a pretender. Before you actually decide to apply yourself more than you have before, you have to ask yourself two simple questions:
1. Why do you play the game?
2. What did you do today to become a better athlete?