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How to Shift Your Hockey Identity Pt.2 (Mental Programming)

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Last week we looked at the Player Self Image (PSI).

We discussed the Law Of The Player Self Image which states:

The way a hockey player sees themselves has a direct impact on how they play.

If you have not read that article, go back and read that one first - because it sets you up for this article:

Today we talk about the process of shifting your Player Self Image (PSI).

Helping you change from the player you are now. To something greater and more valuable for scouts and next-level teams.

Remember, the PSI is not some airy-fairy concept.

Rather it is the foundation that all other skills are built on.

Every player has a PSI.

Connor McDavid has a PSI.

Auston Matthews has a PSI.

Nathan Mackinnon has a PSI.

These players have very strong PSIs.

The reason for this has a lot to do with how they grew up.

How the PSI Gets Developed Young

The PSI starts when a player is very young.

When you are a baby you are learning about the world.

You do not understand that you are some separate person from the world with a name and a personality.

But as you get older you start to develop a Self Image.

You realize that you are a separate person with a name, preferences, and desires.

For you, one of your desires was to play hockey.

You first started playing hockey because it felt good to you.

That is why we do anything as a kid - get that dopamine hit and feel good.

Some players enjoy the act of playing.

Some players enjoy the praise and attention they get from people when they play. Such as parents, teammates and coaches.

Usually, it's a combo of both.

For example:

If every time a kid picks up a mini stick, their parents smile and cheer, then that kid will be programmed to do it more often.

That kid will be programmed to like it even more.

That is just the basic programming of our psychology. If we do things that are positively rewarded in some way… we do more of those things.

Now, some players are very good at hockey right away.

When a kid has high natural talent, then hockey is easy for them and enjoyable.

If they are good at it, and they get a ton of praise & attention from their parents, friends, and others for doing it, that is a recipe for a strong PSI.

Building on top of that having a strong PSI from a young age. Along with high natural talent, and high mental resiliency is a recipe for greatness.


The Feedback Loop

Think about someone like Connor Bedard:

  1. Born with high natural talent

  2. Started playing very young

  3. Was good right away

  4. Had supporting parents who gave him lots of praise and attention for it

  5. He develops a strong PSI

  6. This strong PSI leads him to practice and play more (and with more flow)

  7. He GETS better

  8. He then FEELS better

  9. So he then spends more time practicing and playing

From a young age, he had developed the feedback loop of greatness:

Over 13 or so years, this can cause someone to develop very quickly.

The feedback loop allows players to separate themselves from the pack.

Of course, this is not all that goes into it, but I believe that it is foundational to what makes great players great.

Your Challenge

Now, the challenge is that not all players are in this loop to greatness.

If they are not supernaturally talented, then playing well does not feel very good.

So the player will be pushed away from it.

If the player doesn't receive high praise and attention for doing it, he will likely not be driven to do it more often either.

Most players start somewhere in between.

They have some natural talent and some praise.

So they develop a solid PSI, but not anything special.

So they don't go through that feedback loop of greatness.

Instead, they go through the feedback loop of mediocrity.

This might be where you have been most of your career.

This has a lot to do with why players don't train hard.

Because they don't believe they will get the results.

Their PSI is like a glass ceiling on their potential.

And YOUR ceiling is waiting to be broken through.

Breaking The Glass Ceiling

The problem is you can't change the past.

What you can change is what you TELL yourself about the past.

You can take control of that feedback loop that is currently feeding a negative or mediocre PSI.

And push your Player Self Image to reach for a greater idea of who you can be as a player.

You can reprogram your Player Self Image.

And when your PSI is reprogrammed, you are able to smash through the old one like it was a thin piece of ice.

Shifting Your PSI

The ability to shift your self-image gives you a superpower.

One of my favourite sayings is:

Greatness is defined by your ability to rise above your current circumstances.

So being able to shift your identity gives you the ability to create greatness.

The challenge most people face is that they DREAM of being great, but everyone around them tells them they are not great.

It's the tall poppy syndrome.

It's a concept that if a poppy grows higher than the rest, it will be cut back down to size.

This happens in hockey all the time.

A player is an average player, and then suddenly something causes a shift in their ability.

Maybe you scoring more often than usual.

This might happen for a few games, but then their teammates stop passing to you as often.

Or people start saying sarcastically or jokingly "Looks like we have a superstar on our hands".

This may seem harmless, but it ultimately pulls your Player Self Image back down to where you once were. Back to a level of performance, you DON’T want to be stuck at.

And because you don't have a strong PSI, it's easy to get cut back down like a tall blade of grass by a lawn mower.

So how do we avoid this cycle getting cut back down after having improved?

You must develop a CONCRETE Player Self-Image.

This means a strong Player self-image that is not swayed by other people's comments or judgements. The famous New Zealand All Blacks rugby team refers to this as ‘Keeping a Cool Head’.

You want a PSI so strong that when the lawn mower blade tries to chop you back down, you break the blade right off.

That's what great players do.

Then it makes it possible for their teammates to elevate with them.

That is why learning to reprogram your PSI can have a ripple effect that changes EVERYTHING.

How to Shift Your Self-Image

Reflect. Remove. Rewire.

That is the formula that will change everything.


Reflection is about clarity.

Being able to separate the thoughts that serve you against the endless noise in your head that does not.

You'll have many kinds of voices in your head.

The point of reflection is about actually hearing the voices that are in your head.

Being able to see them all in your mind as clear as day.

Then it's about realizing that those thoughts are NOT you.

They are thoughts and only thoughts.

Thoughts are not your identity.

Your thoughts and who YOU are, exist as two separate things. They just happen to share the same space in your head. That is why you confuse your thoughts as being WHO you are.

The kinds of thoughts that are important to understand and analyze most of all are your beliefs!

What’s the difference between thoughts vs beliefs:

a) Thoughts can be any random collection of ideas or memories that spring into your head. Thoughts can just exist in your head briefly but don’t necessarily push you to act out a certain way.

b) Beliefs are a TYPE of thought that drives your daily actions. It is the ideas that you consistently choose to live by and which provide the basis for WHY you do WHAT you do.

I may have thought about driving drunk on the highway, but I do not do it.

It stays as nothing but a little piece of noise between my ears that comes and goes.

The 1st function of reflection is about taking stock of what your thoughts and emotions are as of lately.

It’s about getting a signal about which direction you are taking your life.

The 2nd function of reflection is about identifying and targeting the:

  • programs

  • beliefs

  • tapes

  • thoughts

that you are having that you can see are leading you down a path you no longer want to go down.

Beliefs are the mechanism we use to point to our goals.

If we have strong positive beliefs, then we have a strong chance of reaching them through our actions.

If we have strong negative beliefs, then we also have a strong chance of reaching them through our actions.

Our minds aren’t very interested in caring whether our beliefs are positive or negative. Either way, actions will be executed ACCORDING to these beliefs and not without them.

That is why we must learn to remove the beliefs that are holding us back.


  1. Take 30 minutes and write down all of your honest beliefs about yourself and your game.

  2. Come back a few days later and write some more.

  3. Then a few days later read through them

  4. Notice which ones are real beliefs

  5. Notice which ones you are pretending you believe (to make yourself feel better)


Removal is about surrendering.

Now that we know what mental programs we like and do not like, we must let some go.

It's about letting go of the attachment we have to the mental programs we have developed in our lives.

It's about asserting that we will no longer let these programs run us into the ground.

This is a hard process.

The key here is that you learn to let go of them one by one instead of all at once.

Many of these programs are deeply programmed into your hardwiring.

So they will take time.

But here is a simplified process you can follow:

  1. Sit down and relax for 5 minutes

  2. Review your beliefs from the reflect action steps

  3. Pick one that stands out on the page

  4. Sit with the beliefs

  5. Ask yourself:

  6. Is there any rational reason for such a belief?

  7. Could it be that I am mistaken in holding this belief

  8. Would I come to the same conclusion about someone else in a similar situation?

  9. Why should I go on living as if this were true - if there is no good reason to believe it?

  10. What does my life look like if I continue holding onto this belief?

  11. What does my life look like if I truly made this belief disappear?

  12. If you choose to let it go, imagine letting the belief go like a balloon floating into the sky.

  13. See it drift far far away

  14. Repeat this 3 days in a row.


Now, you are ready for the rewiring process.

This is where we were in our new programs.

This is where visualization comes into play.

You see, our mind is programmed by experience.

So if we score a lot of goals, it starts to believe that we are a goal scorer.

But if we are not getting the results we want in the world, then it is hard for our brains to rewire.

This is why it can be so powerful for a player who struggles to score in the NHL to play sometime in the AHL for a little bit.

It can help them to find that goal-scoring PSI they once had.

If you want to do this without needing to drop down levels, you must create powerful mental experiences.

These are like visualizations on steroids.

The key here is to focus on feeling the movement with your whole body.

You want to feel as if you are in the moment with all of the sounds, sights, and emotions that you feel in that real experience.

Not just a vague image in your head. but doing your utmost best to stimulate ALL your senses and memories into making a complete vision.

Then you want to repeat it.

So here are the action steps you can take for this:

  1. Take 10 minutes.

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Relax your body fully.

  4. Imagine yourself in a situation where your old beliefs would have held you back.

  5. Now, see yourself clearly and make the play you WANT to make

  6. Feel it with every cell in your body.

  7. This program is an experience in your mind

  8. Repeat this 10 times in a row, feeling 2x better each time

  9. Then, see yourself in a situation you have had success with in the past

  10. Feel that experience fully

  11. Boom you connected that old REAL experience to the mental experiences that you generated

  12. Repeat this for several plays during your 10-minute session.

  13. Repeat this for 21 days to form a new deep self-image.

Now Go Do It

Nothing changes if you do not actually program your mind.

So go do this for the next month and see what happens.

You will never be the same again as a player and person.


  • Corson

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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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