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Positive Self-Talk: Goaltender’s Mental Training #2

Positive Self-Talk: Goaltender’s Mental Training #2
Vancouver Goalie Cory Schneider with water bottle

Between whistles there is a good opportunity to incorporate positive self-talk into your routine to prepare for the next face-off. David Hutchison photo.

When I was first introduced to the psychological aspect of becoming a better athlete – “The Mental Game” – the concept I found the easiest to learn and implement is what sport psychologists refer to as Positive Self-Talk. This very important aspect of mental training will help goaltenders achieve greater success during competition.

Simply put, positive self-talk is either an audible or non-audible conversation that athletes have with themselves. It involves the use of either statements (e.g., “ I will stop the puck, I will stop the puck” ) or isolated words (e.g., “patience, patience”) carefully chosen to cause emotional arousal (getting ready) to enhance a performance outcome. In clinical psychology, these words or phrases are referred to as task-specific or task-relevant cues. When adding positive self-talk to a pre-competitive / competitive routine, there are at least some things to take into consideration: (1) during which pre-competitive and competitive circumstances are the chosen cues to be used ? (2) What is the content of the term(s) chosen? (3) What are the desired emotional responses and (4) what is the resultant performance outcome? The last consideration is obviously the most important since the entire purpose of mental training in sport is to make athletes more confident, thereby reducing stress, and hence obtaining better results during competition.

This all sounds easy enough but it is an acquired skill and not infrequently a lot of time and effort is required to affect long-term change. This is most commonly due to deep-seated lack of self-esteem or self-confidence on the part of the athlete. Both athletes and coaches must understand that with a longstanding history of negativity and self-deprecating behavior (and therefore sub-optimal results) altering brain biochemistry will not happen overnight. One must first eliminate the negativity and then establish positivity to influence a more desirable athletic performance.

Two of the ways in which an athlete can begin to eliminate negative thoughts include the mental training techniques of Reframing and Countering.

Reframing is the process of altering the manner with which an athlete views or approaches something. If a goaltender is more focused on the consequences of losing than on that which is required to succeed then reframing is required. An athlete must embrace the significance and excitement of serious competition. If you are capable of getting to the point where you only focus on that which you can control, you will be able to reduce or control symptoms of anxiety and self-doubt. A simple way to look at reframing is to ask yourself have you done everything to the best of your ability to prepare for competition. Are you well rested ? Are you properly hydrated? Did you train properly with intensity and efficiency? Is your nutrition appropriate? Have you reviewed recent performance difficulties with your goalie coach and reviewed film (if available)?

The other technique is referred to as countering. It is defined as a process of internal debate of logic and rational thought to counter-act or off-set self-defeating thoughts. In simple terms, it means why am I feeling the way I am (which is insecure) and is my thought process justified? If you have answered positively to the questions above (and others) then there is really no reason not to believe in your abilities. This can be a difficult hurdle over which to get especially if you have not experienced previous competitive success. With previous success it is much easier to affect mental change since previous accomplishments “are the strongest contributor to sport’s confidence”(note 1). Here is an example of how to use positive self-talk.

  1. Choose a positive, self-affirming statement or word (“I will stop the puck”)
  2. Determine when the statement will be used (pre-game routine while visualizing or during warm-up to promote emotional arousal/ during games when negative thoughts enter your mind)
  3. Understand what the desired emotional response should be (decreased stress, decreased anxiety and increased focus)
  4. Understand what the desired performance consequences should be (getting closer to you peak performance state)
Tim Thomas Diving Save

Tim Thomas' trademark battling style. There are no negative thoughts here - Thomas believes he has a chance to make every save. Scott Slingsby photo.

One must understand that feelings of uncertainty are most prolific during stressful periods. Stress is generated when something is of concern or of importance to someone and the outcome (be it an examination or a competition) is yet to be determined. The quintessential example of that is competitive sports.

In the early stages of mental training with positive self-talk the biggest hurdle to overcome is stopping the negative thoughts. There are numerous exercises available in sport psychology which an eager student can use to start training correctly. These include:

  1. Journal Writing (write down what you were thinking, when you thought it and how it likely adversely affected your performance state)
  2. Thought Stopping (this is arguably the most simple exercise and one I like myself. As soon as a negative though enters your mind you fight back immediately by saying “NO!” and come back with your re-affirming statement(s))
  3. Rubber Band Snapping (have a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time negativity enters you mind)
  4. Change Self-Limiting Comments to Questions (Instead of saying I can’t stop this guy’s shot say how can I stop this shot, and build yourself up from there)

This article is but a brief overview of the positive self-talk  topic. I have experienced self-doubt both as a goaltender and with high altitude mountaineering. At 5000+ meters it is the determination and inner fortitude to continue that often determined my success and, regrettably, my failures. There is no more powerful force on this planet than the positive power of the human mind and what it can accomplish. Just as goaltending techniques become learned skills with repetition so the mind can be trained to help athletes achieve desired performance outcomes and peak performance states.

With a strong body and a healthy mind the possibilities are endless….

1.Sports Psychology: Self-Confidence in sport – make your ego work for you! , Karageorghis, C.
Cognitive Style and Athletic Performance Part II: Positive Self-Talk, Schienberg, P. ,2003

This is the second in a series on Mental Training articles by Tomas – read part 1: Win as a Team, Lose as a Goalie here.

About The Author

Tomas Hertz, MD BA

Tomas Hertz has been a contributing author to InGoal Magazine since 2010. He operated  "No Holes, No Goals Goaltending" in Kingston, Ontario for a decade and worked with developing goalies in the G.K.M.H.A. and K.A.M.H.A. He remains active as a timekeeper in the O.M.H.A. - O.W.H.A., the O.J.H.L. (Kingston Voyageurs), and the O.U.A.A. (R.M.C. Palladins). 


  1. RFleming

    Wanted to thank you for posting this article! My first ice game ever was on Sunday, and we got stomped 10-4. I read this on Tuesday, and used possitive self affirming statements on Wednesday while packing my goalie bag before leaving for my second game. We won 4-1!!! I didn’t let the goal in until halfway through the 3rd period! I used “I know how to make these stops” and “I’m going to play aggressive and smart” (I have a bad habit of playing deep in the net.). The team helped out tremendously, but I also felt that I was at the top of my game too.

    So, Thank you! I now have a new pregame routine!

  2. Tomas Hertz,MD,BA

    Your Welcome ! Add “don’t play deep, don’t play deep” to your routine when the rush comes over centre ice until it becomes second nature for you!!

  3. RFleming

    I thought I would add an update:

    I added don’t play deep to my posiive self talk and I felt that I played out a lot better last game. I was also playing 2 days after losing my Mother-in-Law, and had made a makeshift memorial patch out of duct tape and put it on the chin of my mask. Seeing it between periods helped my focus after a rough first period and a really bad goal in the second. I really enjoyed knowing I had something extra on my mask, and I found my inspiration for my next duct tape “patch”. From the website the team we beat 4-1 in our second game, “But try as they might, (down 3-1 with 2 minutes remaining ), Captain Vidal called for Goalie Andrew to come to the bench in favor of the extra attacker. The strategy was producing quality shots on net, but still no dice.” So for the next few games “No Dice” will be on my mask. I’m not using it as a cocky gesture, but more as a reminder that I can play goalie, and I obviously showed I can play it well.

    Again, thank you for the advice, I have seen an elevation in my game just from trying this skill. I can’t wait until I have more practice at positive self talk, and more ice time to work on those skills as well.

  4. RookieMike

    Thx RFleming, I just started playing goal on ice in October, having only played road hockey goal 30 years ago. I play shinny against ex-Jr A players, and some games they score 8 or 9 in a row on me. I tell myself I there to have fun & learn, it’s gonna be a 2-3 year apprenticeship as I update my technique from 70s to 2010s, as well as getting used to lateral movement on ice, much better & quicker shooters. The positive self-talk’s really helped me focus on the next play. None of the guys are complaining about my play or lack thereof, they’re just happy they have a goalie. Mike