To the next generation of Junior hockey players

What is your perception of success? Playing in the NHL? Winning a championship? Winning at any cost? Maintaining a positive attitude at all times?

What happens when you don't understand the true meaning of success? Or, what if you misuse or misunderstand this word? What happens when an inner belief sets in telling you to continue doing whatever it takes to succeed in your hockey career? Doing whatever it takes has also caused much harm in both the professional and personal lives of athletes.  

Dear young hockey players: please take a moment to reflect on this statement: I will do whatever it takes to succeed.

If success to you is all about achieving what is external to yourself, your wellbeing will become of secondary concern. This is why many players encounter much hardship later on in life. What you ignore or deny about yourself right now by focusing simply on the goals or the external results is what I would like you to consider. Once you achieve one goal, it will soon be replaced by another one and then another one. If success is simply about having more of what is outside of you rather than being balanced and in touch with your wellbeing through each moment of the process, then what has been resisted and ignored will persist and resurface. If you judge yourself only by the end result, you will miss the beauty of the process where your personal growth resides and which will actually benefit your play and life in the long term.

You do not need to take anything harmful to your health for a good night’s sleep, take other things for your heartbeat to be pumping out of your chest, nor start self-medicating yourself to better handle stress. You do not need these new so-called magic pills that promise to take you to the next level. There will always be a “new thing” circulating around. It will intensify as you move up the ranks. Trust me, it’s a catch-22! These drugs are patches that you will grow to depend upon and they will probably give you an edge externally but unconscious inner roadblocks will emerge with side effects, poor behavior and a loss of your connection with your intuition and spirit. If you have ever considered taking any of these drugs, can you identify an inner belief that you are not enough at the moment? That is a lie. Can you identify the fear of not being perceived as a success, a winner, a champion or a warrior? That is another lie because the underlying energy that is driving you is based on a fear that is totally unpleasant and mostly unconscious. The other aspect of this lie to keep in mind is worrying about the opinions of others. All of these different worries originate in your fears.

Simply recognize that you have all that you need to get through each moment without falling into the trap of guilt and judgment. Every single performance-enhancing drug will blind you from gaining wisdom from the experience. That does not mean you are not going to try to win out there on the ice. What it does mean is that you are not prepared to win whatever it is you desire at any cost. Be open to reconsidering your perception, your belief and your meaning of “winning”. What you patch for a while will intensify in unexpected ways over time.

Balance is wisdom and wisdom is a balance. Your inner wisdom is what you develop through curiosity, adversity, and awareness of each experience.

The desire to perform at your very best for this one very special game filled with scouts in the stands who traveled many miles to see how well you will perform under pressure simply means that this will be an experience for you to enjoy, to appreciate and to learn from. Don’t worry about it, you will do your best regardless. Your life does not depend on this game. Nor does your career or your future. This inner belief, sometimes unconscious and unquestioned, can make you do whatever it takes to try to be at your very best.

But then comes the next very important game and then the next one and so on until you do not know any other way to handle these experiences. It will also reflect on how you handle yourself off of the ice. You will need to find your escape from fears, worries and anxiety through distractions as, again, what you have resisted in the past will persist into your personal life. You will not always win when you’re on the ice. You will not always win in your personal life outside of hockey. You will not always play your best game nor simply get the recognition that some depend upon from the crowds and the media. It is addicting and you must become aware of it.

Please, take a moment to also reflect on this thought. You will not play hockey forever. Hockey is not all that you know and hockey is not your life. If you believe this is all you know, you will close doors to what this great experience get to teach you. It is an important, significant part of your life and dreams right now. However, it is still not your life. See the difference? You are so much more than this identity.

We are conditioned to become addicted to winning, winning at any cost, and to believing that winning is all that matters. These statements are completely untrue and leave very little room for the process to be acknowledged through what we call losing. Yes, that’s right, you can win through failure. If winning is the only thing that matters to you, then you will be constantly judging yourself every time you lose. With this internal programming, if you happen to lose or fail at something, you will suffer in a very profound way and close many doors to your personal evolution.

Here’s why:

Judgment, guilt, deception, shame, frustration and the like will unconsciously intensify in different aspects of your life. This is a sign of an inner resistance that will prevent you from opening up to discover what there is to be gained from the actual experience of “losing”. Now, this may offend some coaches out there if they are not ready to hear this message, but that is certainly not my intention. I am not saying to not care about winning a title or to stop performing at your best. That's indifference. You will not gain much through failing with a not caring attitude. You must simply understand that at times you will fail and that when you do, these times are still opportunities for you. Each experience is an opportunity to learn if you are first aware and curious about it, both inside and outside. The inside is your state of being and the outside is the game combined with certain skills that you realize need to be worked on. Of course, you will do your best to win – to win the title, the contract, to win whatever your personal goals are.

We have all heard stories of athletes who once were at the top of their game with all of the trophies and media attention that came with that but we only discovered later on that they had been living truly miserable lives while hiding behind an image of success. Consider Tiger Woods for a moment. When he was winning virtually every single PGA tour, you would have associated him with living the dream that some may so deeply desire. We found out a little later on that this hero was actually living in pain and addiction. Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times in a row with the mentality of doing whatever it takes to win even if that included using steroids. His fear was an unconscious driven energy that he lived with for so many years.

My comments are not meant to judge either of these people. I am personally very inspired by their respective journeys to surrender and then change their lives. Some NHL players have committed suicide, gone through a deep depression, and suffered much from addiction to drugs or alcohol (or both). Do you wonder, even just a little bit, if any of these people felt like huge successes as they suffered through their intense pain or when they continuously self-medicated themselves with pain killers or anti-anxiety pills? These are only the stories that we have heard of. There are so many more we do not know about in the hockey world and elsewhere. This is not about blaming any of your former or current coaches or about offending anyone for wanting you to get to the top of your game. We all have some form of ignorance and we are all here to evolve and to grow. The game always changes and so does life. Creating awareness about these conditions is my intention.

If we go a step above success, we meet the valuable word significant. Ask yourself this question: How significant would you like your journey to be impacting others? Behind this meaningful word lies a stronger energy field in which what you are doing is not just all about you. It is actually in our true nature to want to impact others in a humble way but an unquestioning minds fantasize with external success and this new or stronger image of ourself. We desire what is out there and not what is within. The true purpose that is guided by our heart is unconsciously blurred by our mind and desire for this new or stronger identity about ourself and everything else becomes more about "I".

Inside Job First

As a result of playing a sport up to being almost in their twenties, many hockey players live with regret, resentment, anger, frustration or guilt – or even with all of these conditions - for the rest of their lives and with no awareness that it can be changed – that it can be healed. Right now you can begin the process of healing and gaining a new understanding so that the pain does not become suppressed and then one day resurface in some form of destructive behavior, addiction, depression, or with a victim mentality and unquestioned belief that you quite simply got screwed in your career. We sometimes will accept what can actually be changed. We adapt - without curiosity - to our current way of being.

Here are a few phrases that can help you identify the inner resistance that prevents you from moving forward:

- If only this coach would give me that break.

- If only I would have been more serious throughout my junior career.

- I got screwed by this coach or by that organization.

- Man, I was so unlucky this year, I lost a season due to an injury.

- I can't believe he got drafted and I didn't.

- If only I didn't get that injury, I'd be playing power play instead of him.

- How brutal is this?

- I wish I was there, not here.

- I just hate this.

Statements like these previous ones create an energy inside of you that is based on resistance, guilt, judgment, blame, shame, or even at times based on having a victim mentality. Injuries, unfairness, misbehavior, and more will all become stepping stones for you. With these statements, you fall into a trap of resisting your current situation. No matter how hard you try, you cannot change your past. You simply must accept it. Not just through words or intellectually but also through your spirit. It will create an openness within you to acquire the new revelation of the experience. There is a place for healing and there is room for understanding why you behave the way you do. What may very well prevent you from discovering this is the perhaps even unconscious reaction to suppress your emotions and wish that the outside circumstances will change without acknowledging that there must first be a change made inside of you.

Gaining new understanding and taking responsibility for yourself can be found in the famous quote of Gandhi:  Be the change you want to see in the world. We can also rephrase this quote for the hockey world:  Be the change you want to see on the team. 

The reason I acquired this understanding was by going through it all personally with both curiosity and with a non-judgmental approach towards myself. My pain and my ignorance of the past have been the stepping stones to a new journey which I would never have been able to imagine through the fantasy of a conditioned mind that was wanting to win at any cost.

Is a positive attitude the key?

Not necessarily.

Let me explain. Positivity is definitely an important aspect of your wellbeing. You want to remain positive with your teammates and you want to keep a good positive energy about you. However, throughout your career and life, you will most likely face inner fear, resentment, frustration, guilt and the like. These must be acknowledged with integrity and given the attention they need for them to be processed so you can discover their purpose. We sometimes will bury our emotions through powerful positive affirmations with an unconscious resistance and fear-based energy that everything will either be OK or will change. It will be ok and circumstances do change. However, the resistance within remained and those experiences have yet been fully accepted. We go on with life and we chose to no longer think about it with a belief that we are over it. But we are not. With our education, we often have not acquired the life skills that are needed to enable us to become curious about these emotional signals. We must first make the decision to look within ourselves with honesty about what is truly going on in there. It will reveal to us a new comprehension and understanding that we once ignored by giving these signals the attention they need and for as long as they need. And this, my friends, begins the process of healing, of working on what the “experts” call your emotional intelligence. From a balanced state of being, we can make constructive conscious decisions rather than harmful reactive ones.

I could not have imagined myself working with current and former athletes at the professional and junior levels on these types of issues without first opening myself up to experience my own pain and the value of curiosity. Healing and understanding of your own experiences will unfold the beauty of the unexpected sometimes. Aren’t you curious?

Please do not hesitate to be in contact with me should any questions or comments arise as you read this article. If your curiosity has been piqued, I will be delighted to discuss my life coaching services with you and to journey with you on the road to healing, growth and new discovery.  

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