Who would ever think that the one biggest obstacle to achieving success on the ice and reaching your hockey dreams would be your own frustration and self-directed anger whenever you make mistakes or fail? When you get impatient and upset with yourself for messing up — because you feel that, at your level, you shouldn’t be making those mistakes — then you are seriously slowing your development down as a hockey player. What I’m talking about here is the “disease” of perfectionism — where you erroneously believe that you can, and should, always do better than your best. Inherent in this belief is the push to be flawless all of the time. Perfectionists continually evaluate their play and are experts at finding the areas where they think they came up short. In the perfectionist’s mind, a 95 on a test means that he or she missed five points — not that the mark is a solid “A!” Because of this skewed focus, perfectionists are really good at making themselves feel really bad. One way they do this is by finding their imagined “flaws” and then emotionally beating themselves up for having them.
Why are perfectionists so hard on themselves?
Perfectionists hate making mistakes and do not like to be anything short of perfect. They mistakenly believe that failing is a bad thing and that it is something that should be avoided at all costs. Herein lies the heart of the problem and the main reason why, if you are a perfectionist, it may hold you back from realizing your ice hockey dreams. Believe it or not, the secret to success in everything you do (both on and off the ice) is failure! You can’t become a champion without failing enough. You can’t go from Mites to the NHL without making enough mistakes. Failures, mistakes and setbacks provide you with all of the valuable information that you need to improve as a player and to get stronger, faster and more skilled. Every time that you mess up, you have a wonderful opportunity to learn exactly what worked and what didn’t work and, therefore, what you need to do differently next time. Please understand that there’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection. It’s this strong push towards excellence — towards continual improvement and trying to do better than your best — that can actually help you to go far past your limits and to eventually outpace the competition. However, it’s one thing to strive for perfection, but a totally different one to expect it and then, when you fall short, put yourself down for it. If you use perfection correctly — to positively motivate yourself to work hard and push towards excellence — then it can help you cut down obstacles in your way and clear a path to your goals. However, when used incorrectly as a measure of all your imagined shortcomings and as a “stick” to emotionally beat yourself up, it can shred your self-esteem and confidence and kill your hockey dreams. It’s important to always keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails — even the very best! Making mistakes and failing are a normal and necessary part of the learning process. They are not the problem. What is the problem (and what will really hurt your development as a hockey player) is how you choose to react to your mistakes and failing. In fact, your reaction will ultimately determine how good you get and how far you go with your hockey. So, whenever you mess up, you need to start practising “getting curious, not furious.” That is, when you have a less than stellar performance, don’t get angry and upset with yourself. Don’t tell yourself that this means that you’re a lousy player. Instead, get curious about what you did wrong and what you need to do differently next time to have a different result. If you want to get as good as possible and really be “perfect,” then you need to learn to be ”perfect” with your response to mistakes and failures. When you experience them, be gentle with yourself, discover what you did wrong and what you need to correct for next time — and then get to work practising!