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How To Create Confidence: Importance of Positive Thinking  

Martin Jones played only 34 NHL games before becoming the starting goaltender for the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

Martin Jones maintains a positive focus, even when facing adversity in the Stanley Cup Final (Photo by Clint Trahan/InGoal Magazine)

With the San Jose Sharks already down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final and headed into overtime in Game 3, goaltender Martin Jones must have been aware giving up the next goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins would pretty much end his season. But Jones never thought about losing Game 3, or what an overtime goal and 3-0 series deficit would mean to the Sharks.

“No,” Jones told ESPN.com after finishing the 3-2 overtime victory with 40 saves. “That’s horrible thinking.”

Jones was right. That is horrible thinking, but few would have blamed him for pondering the enormity of the moment and including the cost of failing in that thought process. 

How many of you reading this have gone into a big game, or into the final moments of a big game, thinking – even a little about, even for just a moment – about what might happen if you lost the game, played poorly, or gave up a costly late goal?

Jones ability to block out negative thoughts may not have been enough to overcome the Penguins possession dominance in the Cup Final, but as he indicated after Game 3, it played a big role in extending that series with that crucial overtime win. And after a playoff run that included a lot of talk about the calming nature and influence of the 26-year-old Jones and 22-year-old Cup-winning Pittsburgh counterpart Matt Murray, it’s become clear how important the right mental approach is for goaltenders.

So how do we establish the right mindset? How do we create and instill the confidence Jones and Murray did in the playoffs?

It starts with what we think about going into these situations, with avoiding the “horrible thinking” that Jones talked about.

I know from experience how damaging those thoughts can be.

I still remember the 1987 NHL Draft like it was yesterday.

Being an All Star in the Western Hockey League that year I was in good company. Other All Stars included Joe Sakic, Mark Recchi and Bill Ranford, all of whom moved on to successful NHL careers. I studied the Hockey News and I knew all the goalies on every roster of every NHL team. The draft was back east that year and I was sitting outside catching some rays on our sundeck in Victoria, B.C., when my Dad came out and told me there was someone from the NHL on the phone.

I reached for the phone: “Hello?”

It was Marshall Johnston, Director of Player Personnel for The New Jersey Devils: “Peter, congratulations and welcome to the New Jersey Devils, we just drafted you. Looking forward to you being part of our team.”

“Thank you Mr. Johnston,” I said.

Marshall said, “you’ll be getting a letter from us with the dates and information for training camp, come on out and have fun”.

“Thank you,” I said again.

When I hung up the phone the first thought that crossed my mind was, “I don’t have a chance. New Jersey has too many good goalies.” How was it possible to think that negative … that small?

I had just finished a season where I played 54 games in the Western Hockey League, was named my team’s MVP and a WHL All Star. Instead of being excited about being drafted, my first thoughts were I don’t have a chance. They have too many good goalies. Truth is, instead of being confident, positive and believing in myself, I chose to give up right then and there.

I allowed the naysayers to get in my head. The people that said the odds of making the NHL are very slim. What I didn’t know back then is you alone are responsible for making your own odds.

Did I have the skills to play?

Absolutely.

Did I have the mindset to play?

Not at all.

Confidence is the feeling that you are going to be successful before you start. Being clear on what success looks like, and being able to visualize that, is an important part of establishing confidence.

I’ve spent the past 25 years studying the mindset tools it takes for a goalie to have success in a game and in a career. My mission today is to help goalies acquire the mindset that it takes to be a great goalie. To play in the leagues where the best play if that is their goal. A big part of that is teaching them about confidence.

The problem is no one really teaches confidence. There is no class in school that teaches it. A lot of goalies don’t even really know what it is. They know they should have it, but not how to get it.

Confidence is the feeling that you are going to be successful before you start. Being clear on what success looks like, and being able to visualize that, is an important part of establishing confidence.

It can be the difference between going into tryouts seeing yourself on the team instead of going in thinking “I don’t want to be cut.”

It’s a matter of knowing what to focus on and how to focus on it.

For example, I had a student who went from playing house hockey to walking on and making a team in the Canadian Hockey League, but before he made the cut he’d been struggling in practice. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he said he was thinking about the puck going by him. So I said, “great, it’s working.”

The quiet moments between drills can be the most powerful as Pete works with a goaltender at an Eli Wilson Goaltending Camp.

The quiet moments between drills can be the most powerful as Pete works with a goaltender at an Eli Wilson Goaltending Camp.

We got him to focus on the puck hitting him instead, to actively think about it going into his glove, or hitting him and going into the corner. How you picture it is important too. Think of a penalty shot. See yourself butterfly and go to the post and make the save. Picture it big in your mind, really big, like you are in the front row of the movie theatre and screen is even 10 times larger. See it like a GoPro. See it come at you, make the save. See it really bright in your mind. You can add the sound, hear yourself make a save.

There are other pro goalies I work with on the mental side and we talk on the phone before game and walk through the visualization of making saves based on their experiences. I’d ask what happens when they feel good out and it was usually because they made two or three saves. So if your mind can picture those saves before you go on the ice, it creates that feeling of success, or confidence. You can create that without actually making those saves.

Remember Patrick Roy’s retirement speech? He talked about how he would see himself making saves before every game.

End-point visualization is a key part of it. Don’t think about the first save. Instead, start off picturing yourself at the end of the game in the dressing room, holding the game puck your team just gave you for leading them to a big win. Think about how that feels and create that before you go to the rink – that’s huge. Then back your thoughts into the third period, and visualize playing.

Now, there is another part of confidence, and Jones and Murray did this well too: how you move can project confidence.

You can look at someone and tell if they are confident based on how they move and look. Is their head down or up? Are their shoulders slumped and slouched, or are they held back and upright, with shoulders big and looking up? Are they breathing fast or slow and steady? (Murray talked about the importance of breathing several times in the playoffs). How do they move?

We can help a goalie look confident, help them snap themselves into a state of confidence when it slides. If they are aware of it and thinking about how they project it, they can manufacture it.

Confidence comes from how you move, what you focus on and how you focus on it. Understanding that is an important part of knowing how to look and feel confident, and as we saw with Jones and Murray in these playoffs, that’s important to success.

Learn More about Working with Pete and Eli Wilson Goaltending Camps

About The Author

Pete Fry

Author, Speaker and Professional Goalie Mindset Consultant, Pete Fry takes goalies to the next level by working with their Mindset. On the ice and a big part of every Eli Wilson goaltending camp, Fry utilizes proprietary mental training techniques developed from over 30 years of research and goaltender development, Fry shows goalies exactly how to do to visualize success and be mentally prepared, when to do it, and why it works using a ground breaking 30-day program.

3 Comments

  1. Paul Ipolito

    Is it possible to use a bolder font on these articles? My eyes are bad, but I hope they are not as bad as your redesign makes me think they are? Thanks.

    Reply
    • MYL

      Paul Ipolito: I hear your sentiments regarding font selection for articles. It is this or the fact my eyes are simply aging that I too have challenges reading. Depending on your browser choice (I use Google Chrome), I find myself using the “CTRL plus “+”” key combinations to enlarge the fonts. I am not a Mac user so I do not know the key combination for them. Or if you are reading from a mobile device you typically double-tap to enlarge the font. Not the ideal solution but hope this helps!

      Reply
      • Paul Ipolito

        Thanks. Size is OK. It is the pale font that bugs me.

        Reply

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