It is inevitable that at some point during the season you will find yourself or your team embedded in a slump. We’ve all been there. Whether you can’t find the back of the net, stop a beach ball, or seem to be on the never ending quest to find the elusive W, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The simple answer: Less Is More. There is a natural reaction from players and coaches that when the slump strikes, we have to do more to get out of it. This strategy may put added pressure on you as individual or your team. The best way to beat the slump (other than the sacrifice of a live rooster) is to simplify the game and get back to making sure you are taking care of the little things.
When players try to do more than their part, they can take their teammates out of the game and in fact make the game harder for everyone. It is not the responsibility of one player to end a slump, but each player does need to take responsibility in their game and do the little things right. All of this starts in your own zone where one goal against can mean the difference between 2 points or hanging your head at the final buzzer. Making sure you get back and make solid defensive plays may keep a goal off the board for your opponents meaning you have one less to get in the other end to win. Also, making the sacrifice in your own end often times leads to an opportunity for a linemate in the other.
Sacrifices not only have to be made in your end, but in the offensive zone as well. A good drive to the net to push a D back on the rush to create space for a trailer, a finished check in the corner to loosen a puck for a teammate or having the determination to win a puck battle in front of their net can all mean the difference between making the playoffs and a quiet bus ride home.
Some other areas where less can be more and make a big difference in your game are taking notice of your shift length and changes. You may think you are helping by trying to make that one more play, but then your good 50 second shift turns into a tired 100 second with a turnover at the blueline, a slow backcheck or poor change, and BLAMO – the red light above your net is one, leaving one more that your team needs to catch up.
The final piece of the puzzle in slump busting is looking in the mirror and reflecting on what you can control. Did I prepare myself to perform at my best? Am I going to let little mistakes bother me? What attitude am I going to take into the game, each shift and after something bad happens? You can only control your effort and your attitude. You may have to step up at times, but no one player needs to do it by themselves all the time. Players need to elevate their commitment to the basics which will in turn elevate their game and the game of those around them.
For coaches, this is time to reinforce playing the game the right way. Your team is what it is at this point in the season, so now you need to enhance what your team does well and help them shore up the weaknesses. A full out overhaul of the way you play the game is too late. Teams can sometimes be successful without complete buy in to the system and each other, but not during a slump. Every little piece will can magnified, and usually when the chips are down, we magnify the negative tenfold. Find and celebrate the positives. During a slump it will take buy-in from all of your players to get on the winning side. Try not to overcoach and players need to try to not to be the coach. If everyone trusts that everyone else will do their jobs, then a team can pull out of a slump together. Just like when you are winning it is seldom because of one individual, but the sum of all of the parts working in perfect harmony together.
Just like Santa, the Hockey Gods know when you’ve been bad or good, so don’t try to cheat the game. Doing the right thing, no matter how small and simple it may seem will get the Hockey Gods on your side and before you know it, you will be riding high down the stretch and heading into the playoffs feeling like a team that can’t be beat.
Remember to take some time during the Holiday Season to get your mind off of hockey and focus on your friends and family. It will make you that much more excited when it is time to get back to the rink and back to work for the 2nd half sprint.