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Your No. 1 challenge in big games

03/14/2019, 11:30am CDT
By Kim McCullough, M.Sc, YCS

When it comes to performing well in BIG games, there are three key areas that you need to learn to manage in order to succeed.

Photo: Nick Wosika

After watching three great hockey games between the Canadian and U.S. women in the 2019 Rivalry Series, it got me thinking about the biggest challenges for players and coaches in these BIG games. Most of us are at the end of our season these days, with playoff games and state tournaments just around the corner, so hopefully this message rings true for you at this time of year. Feel free to pass it along to anyone else who you think might benefit from reading it. 

When it comes to performing well in BIG games, there are really three key areas that you need to learn to manage in order to succeed.  They all happen to start with the letter E, so we’ll call them “The 3 Es.” 

1. Effort
There is no question that both the Canadian and U.S. women’s teams were  putting full effort into their games. They’ve put in a great deal of hard work over the past year (and their entire career) to earn their opportunity to play in these BIG games, and they certainly are going to leave it all on the table when competing on the international stage. This is not really that different than what you need to do at this time of year when it comes to stepping it up for your playoff games. It is very rare that any player or coach who gets into the BIG game will do anything less than give their best effort. You know you need to step it up and you want to step it up – so giving your best effort isn’t the biggest challenge you face in the BIG game. 

2. Execution
A bigger challenge in the BIG game is execution on both an individual and team level. A lot of players get nervous in big games which can lead to shaky hands, questionable passes and poor judgment under pressure. If players struggle to execute their individual skills or the team system in these BIG games, this can have a very negative effect of performance. It is challenging to put nerves aside and be able to step up your execution when the season is on the line. But with proper preparation in practices, a clear outline of expectations for that game and the right mindset, execution shouldn’t be your biggest challenge in the BIG games. 

3. Emotion
In my experiences as a player and coach, I think the most challenging thing to manage in the BIG game is emotion. It is very easy to be over-excited and over-stimulated going into the big game. The key to having success in the BIG game is to avoid the emotional rollercoaster. One saying I like to use with my players to help them manage the highs and lows of a game is “No Parades, No Funerals.”

This means that you never want to get too high or too low during BIG games. You have to be able to control your reactions to any situation to keep an even keel. When you let your emotions get the best of you, you risk them spilling over to the other 2 Es of execution and effort. If your team goes down by a goal late in the game, you may actually find yourself being too overstimulated that you can’t think clearly and can’t execute even the most basic plays. If your team gets up by a few goals early in the game, you might start to take your foot off the gas slightly or try to do too much with the puck. These changes to your game are due to a change in your emotion – or more specifically, your emotional reaction to what is happening in the game at that moment. 

So, as you get into bigger games in the coming weeks, remember that managing your emotions is the biggest challenge you’ll need to overcome to achieve success.

And always remember: No Parades, No Funerals.


For more articles, videos, interviews and advice on how to take your game to the next level at Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain at Dartmouth and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is the Director & Founder of Total Female Hockey and Head Coach of the Toronto-Leaside Junior Wildcats in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Kim McCullough