Monday, February 06, 2017

Performance: Escaping the River of Expectations (part one)

Eli 15.6 had a terrific weekend.

We took a six-hour team bus ride to Pittsburgh, where his team played three games in the Pittsburgh Penguins practice facility.

This guy was there:

That's Evgeni Malkin, rehabbing an injury. He makes a sheet of ice look very, very small.

Malkin is Gloria's favorite player (she loves players who won't backcheck), so when I saw him, I sent an urgent text immediately :

In their first game, Eli's team played the #5 team in the country and won 5-2. He had 20 saves, and there were no shots from rebounds, which is the hallmark of an excellent game. When all a team gets is first shots, it demoralizes them, and it totally changes the flow of play.

The turnaround to the next game was extremely quick--only three hours from the end of the first game--so we all ate at the rink (which had this amazing restaurant).

The second game was a disaster.

Eli's team is a speed team, and their legs were dead. They played the #15 team and got absolutely pounded, 7-1.

That made me start thinking about something, which I'll be discussing shortly (now tomorrow, because this ran long).

Eli didn't play in the second game--they had an early morning game on Sunday and he would be playing then--but it was still painful to watch. I've grown very attached to these kids over the course of the season, and I want them to get to Nationals, and it seems to be slipping away. They're very, very good, but they're not ranked where they need to be to get an invite.

Sunday morning, they played the #9 team, and we came out flat. Eli was playing very well, keeping them in the game, but we were getting outshot and outplayed. Down 2-1 late in the second, Eli gave up the worst goal of the entire season, on a hard dump-in from outside the blue line that fluttered and went straight through his five-hole.


The period break was two minute later. They skated off the ice, demoralized, and I felt so bad for him. He'd played a terrific game, but goalies are always remembered for the one big mistake instead of everything else.


Plus, it can be devastating mentally. I didn't know what would happen for the rest of the game, him having to come back from that.

Then the third period started and Eli played out of his mind, and I stopped wondering.

We scored, and it was a game.

More saves, including a toe save on a pass across the crease that I still don't know how he made. He made three saves in that sequence, just totally dialed in, and then we scored again with 3 minutes left.


There was no last-minute win, but we didn't have to pull the goalie this time, and the game ended in a tie. The coach of the other team stopped Eli in the handshake line (which never happens) and told him he had a fine game.

Outshot 33-22, and the other team had much had better chances.

So even though Eli's team is ranked #20, they beat the #5 team and tied the #9 team with him between the pipes. It was his best weekend of the season, in terms of quality of play.

Part of Eli's maturation as an athlete has been an improvement in letting go of expectations.

If you let in a goal that you should have stopped, it doesn't fit in with your perception of yourself as a goalie, and that dissonance can start all kinds of negative thoughts. Or if you go into a game expecting to win, facing more adversity than you expected can create those same negative thoughts.

This is human nature, but for someone who wants to be a great athlete, they have to go beyond human nature. They have to believe in themselves as something much, much larger than a single moment or game.

They also have to go into a game without expectations of winning or losing. No thoughts of the outcome. They have to be completely in the moment to see the puck clearly, and I mean that both visually and metaphorically.

For that to happen, they have to go into every game in the exact same frame of mind. Fully prepared for the moment, and fully immersed in the present.

Okay, this has gone on for far longer than I expected, so I'm going to have the rest of the discussion tomorrow, because there's more to talk about.

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