I read the paper. Any day I can, I find a diner, sit down at a table, and read the paper while some nice person brings me endless cups of coffee. I can think better in a diner because I can’t sit there all day, but once I sit down I feel like I have to sit there for a while, just not too long. Time limits are good, they give me permission to stop thinking about everything beyond that table, because I know that in a little while, not too long, I will get back to all those other things out there. Usually, reading the paper is informative without making me want to jump up and yell at someone. Usually.
In today’s paper, I read David Pollak’s Sharks Report. It was a bleak tale. The gyst of the story was: the team is working on it, looking for a way out of the losing streak. Near the end, Sharks captain Rob Blake was quoted as saying: “We’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning and say ‘Oh, we’re going to play better'” What the? Actually, that sounds like exactly what you need to do. And it’s okay, you can do it.
I think it is that easy? Oh, it is not easy. It is like that jump in the Matrix, from one building to the next. Even when the rational mind says you can do something, sometimes the rest of the brain and body do not believe. The problem is, you can’t walk across that gap slowly. There is only one way across: jump. It may not be easy, but it is quick and all at once, like waking up.
Do I know what is going on in anyone else’s head, understand people I have never met, when I have never been in their shoes? No. But I have noticed patterns in human behavior. If they slow down, hesitate, then make the wrong choice, or maybe they get to the wrong place really fast, it means “this is new.” Either they are doing something new or they are trying to do something familiar in a new way. Change is good, it is vital, but it gums up the works like a truckload of sand.
I’m going to take a wild leap and assume that any player in the NHL knows how to play hockey. He probably even knows the rules, and at one time or another was pretty good. So actually, all you do need to do is wake up from what ever muddle you’re in, remember that you know how to do this, and just play.
Muddle? Muddle? Yes, muddle, like a dirty puddle. You don’t know what’s in it, you can’t see through it, it’s splashing all over your pants and ruining your day. If you knew what it was, you might call it coffee. But you don’t, you don’t care, you can step the hell away from it. How do you step away from self-doubt, uncertainty, confusion, a curse of a losing streak, in short, a muddle?
You leave behind the things you don’t know/understand/can’t seem to apply/don’t agree with. You wipe them off your shoes, you stop trying to figure out what the heck lives in that puddle. Let it go. If you don’t already know it, you probably don’t need to. Or you can figure it out later. Usually you do, as soon as you stop thinking about it.
I don’t know who made this muddle in the locker room, it doesn’t matter. Saying things like the above suggests that at least some players on this team are drowning in it. It is not so deep as it seems. Stand up and walk out of it. It will not chase you! Even if it does, you are very fast.
What is it? I don’t know, I’m not on the team. But it is distracting, it is confusing. It makes people doubt themselves. It cannot play hockey, it is a trespasser on the ice. It is the thought that makes you change your mind, and then not know why you changed it.
There’s another part to that quote and it is dead on: “We need to get that belief back.” Belief isn’t muscle tone. It actually can pop right back into place. It’s called an epiphany. Group epiphanies do happen, especially if the people in the group have worked together for a while, like a team.
Sure, you get in the habit of having things go badly. You start to think that if it looks right it is probably wrong. But again, I don’t think players get to the NHL if they logged more hours doing it wrong than doing it right. So the right habits are there, and they are strong. Let them run. Trust them.
Another quote from the same article was from goalie Evgeni Nabokov, on the recent loss in Edmonton: “We talk all the time about making the save and let the other guys clear the rebound, but I wish I could have….” Stop right there. I can’t be hearing a goalie say this! During a game, a goalie can’t think twice about how or when or what to do with the puck! Why not throw an angry Rottweiler in the net, it would be less distracting for him. Doubt is catastrophic. Sure, people can talk about new things and even learn to do them, but when you are in the thick of it, let it go, shut out the noise. If they’re not on the ice, then ffignore them. Play your game.
You may end up doing exactly what someone (or you) have been trying to stop you from doing for months. You may still lose. But if you stop thinking so much about doing, at least you won’t invent brand new ways to screw up. You might even trip over some answers you were looking for. You might start to trust yourself again. Which means you may start winning. Unless there is a danger that players will run up in the stands and set fire to the seats, for God’s sake, turn ‘em loose. Let them play the game. (But no head shots.)
Why do I sound like I think someone is messing with their heads? Because that’s what it looks like. Maybe they are doing this to themselves. Either way, it looks too noisy inside those helmets. You can’t do your best if you are trying to remember what someone told you about how to do your best while you are trying to do it. Confusing? Precisely. Most anything is harder to do while someone is telling you how to do it.
Sure, if you have no clue where to begin, then detailed guidance is necessary. But I’m not talking about teaching me to play hockey, how to skate, what the rules are, not to be such a girl when someone hits me… no. We are talking about old ground for these players. So the team is in a bad patch, or even a rut. But they have not always been in that rut. They know how to play. They know how to win. Sometimes when your brain can’t remember, your hands and your feet can. You know everything you need to know. If there is something else, someone will send you a text, email you, leave a post-it, or call you later.
Welcome to California, Dude. Let it all go, be in the moment. Just for a little while, not too long.