Can you consistently maintain peak performance, or will you crack under pressure?
By Evan Tabachnick
What a rush it is. Being thrust into a high-pressure situation, a chance to play at the highest level you’ve ever reached, and then truly delivering a peak performance—simply playing the best hockey of your life.
It’s been seen time and again in the NHL: a rookie (most notably, a goaltender) plays his first career games during the Stanley Cup playoffs and, in storybook fashion, brings his team to the Promised Land. How about that Matt Murray of the 2016 Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins? Or the Dallas Stars’ Antti Niemi in 2010? Or Carolina’s Cam Ward in 2006?
The adrenaline surge of being forced into the pressure cooker and delivering a peak performance is the athlete’s jet fuel; it’s the fodder of every single sports story ever written. Those who persevered to rise above in the face of doubt; the little engines that could.
The story isn’t just reserved for the pros or the legends. It happens every day, within each and every one of us, both on and off the ice. Will you deliver a high level of performance, or will you crack under pressure? If for you it’s the latter, you’ve gotten off easy! Set the bar low and you can only impress moving forward. This might sound embarrassing, but those in the former position are truly envious.
The championships; the accolades; the glory; the fame; and the expectations to come. How is Cam Ward doing now? What about Niemi? Both are great goaltenders, but they unquestionably never lived up to the expectations they set for themselves by making their sparkling debut on that rocket ship to the top of the world.
We all do our best to ride that wave as long as we possibly can, until gravity starts to take its toll. You can’t go any higher than the top, until you redefine what the top is. The greatest figures of all time are known as such because they remained great for a lengthy period of time. It’s not about how high your peak is; it’s about how long you can stay there. It’s about consistency.
As for goaltenders, who would you rather have: a goalie who alternates shutouts with double-digit losses, or one who consistently allows 4 goals every game? You might not get the glory and occasional perfection, but at least you know what you’re going to get. At the professional level, the second-scenario goalie will deliver a 2.00 GAA for 82 games. Of course, they are paid to be the models of consistency, blurring the line between humans and robots.
How do they do it? When asked, many of them credit their success and consistency to having a well-defined game-day ritual they stick to. Maybe it’s a certain pre-game meal or stretching routine. Or it might be a superstitious thing, like getting dressed left-side first. To inject a personal anecdote: I had a routine I started awhile back where I would make sure I drank a gallon of water on game day. I felt it helped my game tremendously. I felt more limber, more energetic and, obviously, was never thirsty during the game. I became relaxed in my routine and the gallon a day became a half-gallon a day, which over time became a few glasses. Then I was right back to playing games dehydrated again. My performance fell significantly once more, and I knew it was because I was breaking my routine.
Find something that helps your game—even by supposed coincidence—and stick with it. Make your routine a priority and you will keep yourself in prime mindset to consistently deliver a peak performance.
Hey, if the pros do it, it has to work. Right?
Evan Tabachnick plays on as many teams as time allows.