"You're always motivated...it's the NHL. Nothing comes easy." - Brendan Gallagher [Oct. 22, 2015]
Coaches are always trying to improve athletic performance, and a great way to do so is through motivation. Motivation comes either externally or internally.
External motivation takes the shape of trophies, awards, or money; the reward comes from others.
When athletes are intrinsically motivated, they want to master the task at hand. These types of athletes tend to enjoy competition while continually improving their athletic abilities through learning, whether from coaches or veterans on a team. Essentially, intrinsic motivation leads to having fun while still maintaining a competitive edge.
There is one form of intrinsic motivation that I feel every athlete should strive towards: flow. Ever heard an athlete say that he was simply 'in the zone' when things seemed to be continually falling into place?
If an athlete perceives his skills and the challenge at hand to be equal, flow can be achieved. If an athlete perceives that challenge (high expectations, tough opponent, etc.) to be greater than his skill level, anxiety may result, which can greatly hamper performance1.
Now, if it were this cut and dried, every coach would be able to help their athlete achieve this level of athletic performance. However, there are definitely some tips and tricks to use on athletes who may not be seeing the on-ice successes they are capable of:
Finding a balance between relaxation and being on-edge.
Controlling your anxiety heading into an event will certainly help with performance, however being too confident can also be a detriment. P.K. Subban is an excellent example here. PK is one of the most confident athletes in the league, yet still has that anxious energy pre-game. This is made obvious by his need to maintain some sort of movement from the moment his skates hit the ice, and P.K. is famous for his anthem dances.
Maintaining appropriate focus by strictly paying attention to the task at hand and focusing on key points of their game.
This is especially true of athletes in high-stress positions, such as goaltenders. I think we can all agree that both Carey Price and Mike Condon appear to have the ability to maintain pretty narrow focus during game situations.
Physical preparation is key.
An athlete must always feel 'ready' to compete. Injury or poor conditioning can weigh on athletes' minds and can impact their level of performance. Devante Smith-Pelly trimmed down and has exploded into this season, having already exceeded his point production from last year.
When a team is gelling, the results are apparent. All members are in good spirits, enjoy coming to the rink, and the scoreboard shows it. For the first time in a long time, the Canadiens are rolling four lines that are each producing offensively.
Confidence and feeling good about one's skill set.
This is a pretty obvious link to achieving optimal athletic performance. If an athlete is questioning their own ability, it can translate to his on-ice performance.
The environment in which an athlete plays.
We often hear the Habs speak highly of the fans and of the feeling they have when playing at the Bell Centre. There is no denying that the team is adored in the city of Montreal. While many other factors come into play, compare this to a city with lack-lustre interest in their NHL team, or perhaps too much negative media. This can lead to athletes being less than excited about lacing the skates.
There are always going to be a few things that disrupt flow during a game: stoppage in play, poor officiating, fatigue, negative talk on the ice, the team simply not performing well, etc. The key for coaches and athletes alike is to focus on what you can control and work towards an environment that is a positive one, overall.
When coaches and athletes address the topics listed above, athletic performance can increase dramatically. Perhaps some of this is linked to what has been a very strong start for the Canadiens this season. In the mean time, let's just hope they stay 'in the zone.'
1. Weinberg, R.S., &Gould, D. (2011). Foundations for Sport and Exercise Psychology. (5th). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.