Confidence On and Off the Ice

Confidence has always been something I have struggled with. Growing up with anxiety, I focused on every single thing I did wrong and these things would always eventually build up into a big sledgehammer that destroyed any self-esteem I had with one swing. No matter how hard I tried to prevent it from happening, no amount of focus could convince me that what I did well outweighed all of my mistakes or flaws. As I became older, I began to have a better handle on my anxiety. I found ways to manage it, through things like writing and playing hockey, and even went to therapy for a semester. All of this helped, but despite having a better grip on my anxiety, I still somehow had little confidence.

Just how much I lacked confidence became very clear when I started playing hockey again. In my previous article, “Getting Back on the Hockey Grind”, I discussed how I had to take a break from hockey for a semester. For those who did not read it, my anxiety had grown unmanageable, to the point where hockey no longer relieved any stress for me but rather became a trigger. I was nervous before every practice and game because I was afraid of failure. If I messed up in practice or did something wrong during the game, all of my focus would go onto that mistake and my mindset would be ruined for the rest of the game. 

This pushed me to take a painful step back from the sport I love, since it became apparent that I had to address my mental health. I took the following semester off from playing and saw a therapist. They taught me how to overcome my nasty and debilitating habit of focusing on the negative, by showing me ways to combat my intrusive and unrealistic thoughts. At our last session, I could proudly tell them that I was going to play hockey again in the fall. 

I did just that. I am lucky enough to have such a supportive and wonderful group of girls on my team who make every time we are on the ice a blast. When I made a mistake in practice, the other girls would kindly tell me how I could improve or point out what I was doing right. They were always open to giving me advice and complimented me on my successes. They made it easy to focus on the positive and would point out the negative in a way that was constructive, rather than debilitating to my mental health. 

However, as the semester began nearing its end, we had more and more games every weekend. We began facing tougher teams and more losses, which became extremely frustrating. I play with a strong and skilled group of girls, so it was frustrating to me when we would not win because I knew we could. As I grew more busy, I was devoting less time to managing my anxiety, and it took that opportunity to come swinging at my confidence again. Each game we played, I began to focus more on my mistakes again, shaping a negative mindset once more.

Realizing this, I tried to take steps to stop it, as my therapist had advised me. I developed a mantra to tell myself when I became aware that I was entering my negative mindset. I told two of my teammates the mantra also so they could remind me when they saw me getting into my head on the ice. When I got back on the bench after doing something wrong during my shift, instead of ruminating I told myself to “dump and change.” I do not mean the hockey term here, but rather to dump my negative thoughts and change them to positive ones. Instead of dwelling on my mistake, I tried to focus on what I was doing right.

Although this helped me remain more positive, I still struggled to maintain my confidence. I would ask myself “why” constantly, trying to search for the source of the destruction. I was no longer focusing on what I was doing wrong, so those mistakes were not building up anymore. Why then did I still struggle to believe in myself? During one game specifically, all of my teammates were trying to help me score. We had a strong lead, which was not threatened in the slightest, so the team wanted to try to give everyone an opportunity to score. My teammates kept feeding the puck to me, helping to set me up to score, but for various reasons it just was not happening. My mistakes were not getting in my way, since my shots did not miss due to any real fault of my own. Then what was?

One of my linemates told me something I have not forgotten since: sometimes it is not a matter of skill that sets you apart from another player, it is confidence. I kept failing to score because I did not believe that I would be able to. Yet again, I was what was standing in my own way. Her words did not instantly instill confidence in me, but they opened my eyes to the answer to my problem. I was not falling back into my old mindset, like I feared. The person and player I am today is much more positive than who I was and I do not let my failures dictate how I think. I learn from what I do wrong so that I can constantly improve. 

Now that I knew it was not my skill level preventing me from scoring, but my confidence level, I knew I had to find a way to believe in myself. I remembered the feeling of telling my captain and coach that I had to take a break from playing. I remembered the devastation that wracked my body, the sobs that followed the sending of those texts, and the disappointment I had in myself for having had to stop. I know now that I did what was best for me in that moment and put my mental health first, and I am stronger now because of it. I have more control over my mind now, I am a far better player than I was then, and I know I can score. 

The only person telling me that I could not score was myself. So I told myself to shut up and I stopped listening to the voice inside my head. I let the words of my coach, my linemates, and my teammates drown it out until their words became my own. I told myself exactly what they were telling me: I am a good player, I work hard, I do things right, and I can score. With this new adrenaline coursing through me I jumped the boards for my next shift, planted myself in front of the net, and willed the puck to go into the net the next time it touched my stick. I reminded myself of all of the past times I have scored, of all of the work I have put in during practice, and how far I have come. 

I am happy to say that I ended up scoring during that game, but confidence is not an easy thing to accomplish. It is a long and hard task to build it up, strong enough to hold you steady so that you cannot be knocked down. I am on that journey right now, reminding myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to, both on and off the ice. This is a reminder to you, wherever you are on your journey, to keep trying to believe in yourself too. You may be surprised by what you can do.