Answering the Call …

The trials and tribulations of an athlete, who holds a spotlight position as that of a baseball pitcher, football quarterback, diver, golfer, tennis player, or even a basketball player at the free-throw line – bring with it a tremendous amount of pressure, stress, and anxiety … Just as Shaq! But, there is definitely something to be said for the athlete who is flung into the spotlight – out of NO-WHERE … Sure, one can argue -”if you’re a professional athlete – you’re supposed to be ready … that’s what you’re being paid for!”. The response to such a statement is “sure!” but more accurately stated “we quickly forget that these athletes possess the same human qualities and traits as everyone else”. This is to say – “Pro-Athletes are people FIRST and Athletes SECOND!”

It can be argued that one of the most stressful positions in professional sports is that of the ice hockey goalie. Each game, your role is to provide the last line of defense for your team. You must stand strong, provide complete confidence to your entire team and all that watch-on and support so as to maintain the ever illusive “momentum in the air”, you must provide support and encouragement to each and everyone of your teammates as they falter, you must be an effective communicator, and most importantly – you MUST stop everything that is shot onto your team’s goal … no pressure there! PLUS, it is just know that in any moment … you can go from being a complete God on your team to being relegated to the team goat! Every game, a goalie knows that he/she will enter the game with optimism towards that of successful ending while realizing that the opposite could also occur. While this con-vexing is taking place, a goalie is also hoping that their efforts will warrant them a chance to go through all of this stress and anxiety again … Could this be any more confusing and perplexing for an athlete?

During this time of the year, hockey enthusiasts begin to smile with excitement and anticipation as we begin the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Teams are flying, players are pushing their bodies and skills to the limit. Everything they have hidden within themselves throughout the season is now about to be unleashed. And everyone knows it! With the start of the playoffs last night, a last minute change of plans occurred for goaltender Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild. As Harding entered the pre-game events yesterday, he was prepared to be the back-up goalie taking in all of the night’s action from the sideline. This season provided a heightened level of stress as he was diagnosed with MS at the beginning of the season and many doubted if he’d be able to play ever again or at the level is expected of him. During pre-game warm-ups, Harding would be given his chance to show all those who had followed his progress throughout the season, when starting goalie Nicklas Backstrom was injured.

Instantly, Harding was thrown into the fire – having to take -over for his goaltending partner who was tied with San Jose Sharks goaltender Annti Niemi for the most wins in the regular season (24). Using a baseball saying for a situation as this … Harding got the call! For many, this situation would provide an extreme level of stress and anxiety. It’s hard to say how Harding processed all of this, but what is certain is that he answered the call!

The ability to harness one’s stress and anxiety before and during an athletic event/game and channel these emotions to more positive and powerful sources of energy is both a skill and talent. The ability to take control of such pressure situations and feelings is what elite athletes work-on again and again with their sport psychologist(s) – so as to be able to define the moment before them, and not allow that moment define them. The ability to harness these feelings of stress and anxiety are referred to as the controlling your Optimal Zone for Performance. Once an athlete can learn how to control their emotions as stress and anxiety they will be able to develop a consistent flow to their game.

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