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How To Set and Accomplish BIG Goals In Hockey (11 Steps For Hockey Players)

Updated: Jul 1



I got off of a Strategy Call with a young hockey player recently.


He was 14 years old. Living in Newfoundland, Canada playing AAA hockey.


He wanted to make the U18 AAA team in the next year or 2.


He had been struggling with "consistent confidence" and "motivation".


I asked him to explain more deeply what his problem was.


"Some days I want to put in the work. Some days I just don't have the motivation" he said.


He was struggling to stay disciplined and actually do the work required to get better and he was not feeling very confident about his game (because he was not doing the work to get better).


We talked for another few minutes.


After continuing the conversation, he said something that really stuck out to me.


"Not many players make it to the NHL where I am from. So honestly I am not sure if it's realistic for me to play professional hockey."


This hit me like a ton of bricks, and I knew exactly why.


I knew I could have scolded him and told him the common clichés about how "anything is possible" and "you gotta have a positive mindset", but I knew in that moment I would have been wasting his time.


I could see so clearly that this limiting belief had dug its way deep into his subconscious mind.


It had found its way into his Belief Software, and this meant he had no reason to to push himself to take the actions he wanted to take.


It's understandably very frustrating.


And of course, you will hear the people who say "He just doesn't want it bad enough."


But I don't believe that is true.



Desires vs. Beliefs


Everyone has desires.


Some to score more goals, some to be super fast on the ice, some to win championships.


We all want stuff.


And we all have beliefs about the way things work.


You might believe that if we lift weights in a structured way, then we will get stronger and build muscle. This belief might form because you worked out for several years with a good plan and some good results.


You might believe that working out leads to injuries so you avoid it altogether. This belief might have formed because you saw someone lift heavy at a young age and got hurt.


Notice how each of these beliefs was formed by something that either happened to them, or they saw/heard happen?


You are not born with these beliefs.


Beliefs are implanted in your mental software through our interactions with the world (people, places, things).


Which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.


Forming beliefs about people, places, and things in the world helps to keep humans alive.


For example, if we go to a pond to get water, and a large crocodile lunges out at us.


It would be beneficial to form a belief about the pond that it is dangerous and to be avoided.


This situation may have been a one-off event, but it's safer for humans to allow the world (such as a crocodile lunging at you) to shape our beliefs.


Belief formation also helped humans survive in many other ways such as:


1) Social Cooperation

Shared beliefs helped to unify groups, creating social cohesion and cooperation.


This unity allowed groups to work together more effectively, improving their chances of survival against predators and in harsh environments.


For example, a shared belief in a common goal could motivate individuals to work together and support one another.


2) Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

Beliefs provided a framework for decision-making and problem-solving.


Having a set of shared beliefs helped communities establish norms and rules, which in turn made it easier to make collective decisions quickly.


This could include beliefs about food sources, hunting practices, or safety measures.


3) Cognitive Efficiency

Forming beliefs allowed humans to simplify the complex world around them.


Instead of constantly reassessing every situation from scratch, beliefs provided a mental shortcut that made processing information and making decisions faster and more efficient.


This cognitive efficiency was crucial in situations where quick decisions were necessary for survival.


4) Cultural Transmission

Beliefs facilitated the transmission of knowledge and culture across generations.


By embedding important survival information within belief systems, humans ensured that vital knowledge about the environment, food sources, and dangers was passed down, preserving the group's ability to thrive.


5) Psychological Stability

Beliefs provided psychological comfort and stability, especially in the face of uncertainty and adversity.


This emotional support was important for maintaining mental health and resilience, which are crucial for survival.


A belief in an afterlife or in the ability to influence events through rituals could reduce anxiety and increase a sense of control over one’s environment.


Now I know you are probably wondering: how are beliefs even formed?


Bad Environments Create Bad Beliefs



This is how beliefs are formed and they become your Identity (This is why the biggest part of Shifting Your Identity is Shifting Your Beliefs).


I know so many players feel similarly to the young player I was talking about earlier.


Whether:

  • You are stuck in a minor hockey association that doesn't support you.

  • You are on a team where the coaches or the players that tell you you suck.

  • You have friends who tell you that you will never make it anywhere in hockey.

  • You have a parent who always got angry when you had a bad game and made you feel like you would not succeed.

  • You were not naturally very gifted in some way with hockey and you believe it will always be. that way.


No matter what, the world around you is programming your beliefs.


Most players don't realize how much their mental software has been programmed until they do one of our programs.


Suddenly, they see all of the beliefs that have been running in the background that have been shaping their career up to this point.


It's so important to become aware of your beliefs because what you believe leads to the actions you choose to take on a daily basis.


If you believe something is truly impossible, you will stop doing it the moment the thing is not enjoyable anymore.


For example, many players at a young age believe they can make the NHL or really high level, so they are willing to deal with a lot of hard and crappy things.


They push through the times they don't enjoy it because they believe it is worth it in the end.


But if they don't have any belief in a positive future, then it is very likely they will quit.


That is why it is so important for young players to understand how to create crystal-clear visions for themselves and use these to alter their beliefs.


Still Don't Believe That Beliefs Matter?

If you are still skeptical about beliefs, consider the story of the 4-minute mile being broken.


Roger Bannister was the first person to break the four-minute mile on May 6, 1954, at Oxford University's Iffley Road track, with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds​ (The HISTORY Channel)​​ (Guinness World Records)​.


You would think that since it took so long for someone to run a 4-minute mile it would be quite a while before the next person ran it.


But that wasn't the case after word got out that the 4-minute ceiling had been broken.


After Bannister accomplished the sub-4-minute mile, the barrier was quickly broken by others.


Just 46 days later, on June 21, 1954, Australian runner John Landy set a new world record with a time of 3 minutes 57.9 seconds​ (Outdoor Fitness Society)​.


Over the following three years, a further 15 runners managed to run a sub-four-minute mile.(Guinness World Records)​​ (Outdoor Fitness Society)​.


This demonstrated the psychological impact of Bannister's accomplishment and the collective shift in athletes' belief in their capabilities.


It's crazy to think that had people believed it was possible before, it likely would have been broken far earlier, but it took someone proving it was possible to shift the belief in others' minds.


People started to believe they could do it, and we would then assume their thoughts/emotions shifted, and then their behaviour changed.


Once your behaviour changes in terms of your training and preparation, your results will shift too.


Belief → Emotions → Thoughts → Action → Results


It's crazy, but people don't realize

  • How much a player's mindset software impact his behaviour?

  • How the root of action really does come down to belief software.

  • How much our environment impact our belief software?


So the question then becomes, what should you do?


How do you actually create that belief and a path toward where you want to go?


I will lay out an in-depth answer for that young player (I hope he reads this)


How To Set & Accomplish BIG Goals In Hockey


1) Set a clear vision of what you want (make this a clear goal)

In order to get to where you want to go, you must establish where you want to go.


Take some time and write down what your vision is for your career.


Imagine what it would be like to play on a pro team.


Think about the lifestyle.


Think about how you would feel being there.


You will learn a lot about what you really want when you think about the good and the bad that comes with it.


Don't just set super high goals, but set a clear vision of a life you really want to live.


Don't limit it by what you believe you can do.


Just let yourself dream.


2) Set a clear Anti-Vision (what you do not want)

If you want to get somewhere, it's also very important to know where you don't want to go too.


Knowing where you don't want to go, gives us a very strong motivation to act.


To create this Anti-Vision, think about the life you do not want.


Imagine in detail all of the things you would hate to have in your life.


Get clear on all of the details.


Know the places you do not want to be.


Know the people you do not want to see.


Know the person you do not want to be.


(I hope you liked my rhyme there haha)


Take some time to write your Anti-Vision down clearly, along with your actual vision.


The reason I believe this is so valuable is because humans are not just motivated by what they want.


Humans are generally motivated more by fear than reward.


They are usually more motivated by what they do not want versus what they do want.


Yes, I know it's a little wild to think about, but it's true for most people in most situations.


There is a study in affective neuroscience that demonstrates its perfectly.


The study looks at rats and their motivation.


It's not a human experiment, but we can draw a lot of knowledge from this nonetheless.


The experimenters start off by starving a rat so it is very hungry and needs food to survive.


They then attached the rat’s tail to a spring which measured how hard the rat pulled forward.


We assume here that motivation is represented by how hard the rat pulls on the spring.


The harder the rat pulls, the more motivated we can presume the rat is.


***The important note is that the rat is starving so he needs the food to survive.


For the first experiment, the door opens and a piece of cheese is in front of the rat; he runs towards it, experiencing resistance from the spring. His motivation for the cheese is recorded by how hard he pulls.


For the next experiment, the experimenters removed the cheese and introduced the smell of a cat (cat dander). The smell of the cat represents that a cat is behind the rat. The rat then pulls harder than when just the cheese is presented.


Finally, the experimenters put both the cheese in from of the rat and the cat dander behind the rat. The rats consistently pulled the hardest in this situation, harder than in the previous 2 experiments.


This combination of Vision and anti-vision seemed to cause the rat to become a beast, yanking on the spring. (Daily writings from Minnesota)​.


Taking this to humans…


Cheese

If you put a hockey player in a situation where he can become a top player on a team and in the league quickly (big fish in a small pond), then he will typically work hard, but not the hardest because he doesn't have any fear. He just gets the cheese and does what's required to get the cheese.


Cat

Now put a hockey player in a super high-pressure situation in a high league and tell him that every game might be his last, then he will likely work even harder than the player who knows what is required to be a top player and doesn't need to do much extra.


Cheese + Cat

Now take that player move him up leagues and give him a legit opportunity to be a top player and at the same time tell him that if he doesn't perform, he will be dropped down the lineup. Make it very clearly performance-based. If he does his job and keeps improving then he will keep getting more opportunities. This player will very likely give it everything he has to succeed because he has both the cheese (being a top guy) and the cat (the fear of losing his spot or being dropped if he doesn't perform).


No this isn't a foolproof system, but it can make a huge difference for learning to manage players from a psychological perspective.


Looking back at the rat example, it's important to keep in mind the rat was starving so it needed to eat to survive.


Hockey players often have other things they enjoy out of hockey that keep them satisfied (friends, parties, girls, etc).


But if a player does not enjoy these things and is given the "Cheese + Cat" scenario, I believe he will be virtually guaranteed to thrive given he has the potential to succeed in the league and be a top player.


Yet, it still pulled harder away from the



3) Establish what you are willing to sacrifice to get your vision

So you know what you want and you know what you don't want.


But none of that matters if you do not establish what you are willing to do.


What are you willing to do actually to make your vision a reality?


If you are not willing to do whatever it takes, that is ok, you just have to be willing to adjust your vision to be a little smaller.


I say this because if you want to succeed you might have to sacrifice TV, social media, friendships, family time, etc.


You might have to move away from home. You might have to sleep at the rink. You might have to do a lot of things that are not always fun.


So get clear on if you really are willing to do whatever it takes and if not, establish what your limit is.


Then adjust your vision accordingly.


4) Get clear on exactly where you are

Ok so now you know what you want, don't want and what you are willing to do to get it.

This step is all about establishing where you really are.


This means going out to a skills coach, going to a personal trainer, going to a video coach, going to a mental coach and asking each of them where you are right now.


Now you might not be able to afford all of these so you may have to:

  • Take it upon yourself to record your skills work and compare it to players at higher levels.

  • Measure your speed and other key metrics on the ice

  • Measure all of your physical abilities on all key lifts, movements, and drills

  • Establish where your focus, confidence, and Hockey IQ is at


Getting clarity on where you are with all of these things sets you up to create micro-goals for yourself to achieve.


5) Layout a list of the micro-goals between that larger goal

Ok so now you know where you are, what you want, don't want and what you are willing to do to get it.


Now it's time to lay out the steps to get to your vision.


This means going through each component of what it will take to get to where you want to go and putting it into a step-by-step list.


This means:

  • Laying out what leagues would be the ideal next steps for you (you can ask an advisor or look up more about this online)

  • Figuring out what needs to get measurably better about your game (mind, body, skill)

  • Figure out what people, tools, and resources you need to make those improvements.


6) Get clear on your environment

Now that we have the micro goals, we must ask if our current environment going to help us his these micro goals.


If not, then it's time to change.


This might mean moving away from home, driving further to train with better guys, etc.


When I was speaking to the player I referred to earlier, he just was. not willing to consider moving away.


And this will hold him back.


If your environment is not helping you move toward your goals, then it is on you to do everything in your power to go to an environment that will.

Remove the excuses.


Step up.


This is what you need to hear (because I know I definitely did)



7) Establish what needs to change about you

Once you get the environment right, then it really comes down to seeing what needs to change about you.


I am talking about your thoughts, beliefs, habits, and lifestyle.


You must step back and realize everything about you is just a habit. Habits make up your Identity.


You can learn to change these things by becoming aware of them.


We teach an entire system for changing these things in our more advanced programs which you can check out here identityshifthockey.com



8) Layout a clear plan of attack for the mind, body, and skills

The next step is to lay out your plan of attack.


This means creating a daily, weekly, monthly, year, 5-year plan, 10-year plan.


When you start thinking longer term, you realize so much can happen.


For example, let's say you can bench-press 150 lbs right now.


If you added 5lbs A MONTH to your bench that's 60lbs per year.


That might not seem like much, but if you stayed on that very slow pace for just 5 years, you would bench 450lbs!


I know things can get in the way of this happening, but I believe if we treat everything in hockey with that kind of patience and consistency, why can't we make consistent progress year-round?


We don't do it because we don't have a long-term plan that sets us up for consistent success.


9) Create accountability

Now, if we do have a plan, we have to follow it.


As a kid, we didn't always want to brush our teeth, but our parents kept telling us to do it every day.


Eventually, it just became something you do all the time.


That's an example of external accountability.


As hockey players, we don't always want to do everything it takes to get better.


So that's why we have accountability built into our coaching programs and that's why you probably want to have it in your system too.


10) Create a Confidence Memory Bank (A bank of all of the reasons you believe you can do it)

Naturally, there will be times during your career when things do not go your way.


It's likely your confidence will drop during these times.


It's important during these times to have a bank of memories stored up to remind yourself of how good you are.


It can help to have a highlight reel of all of your best plays and add to it consistently.


You can also visualize consistently to create more memories.


These memories ultimately are what shape your Player Self Image and your Identity as a player.


So when belief does dip, the memory bank can be pulled up mentally or on video to remind you of how good you are.


I wish I had done this in my career to handle some of the low points.


11) Protect Your Beliefs

Everyone is going to have their own opinions about you and your career.


Think of your beliefs like a garden.


You want to plant seeds of belief and water them consistently.


Other people may try to plant their crappy beliefs like weeds in your garden.


But it's your job to catch them and to protect the beliefs that you have planted so they can actually grow into reality.

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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.

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