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Managing Game Day Jitters in Playoffs

Just because it’s the playoffs doesn’t mean everything changes. You’ve been practicing and playing since the fall. Be confident in what you’ve been doing between then and now.

It’s playoff time! That means emotions will be running strong as hockey teams at all levels play to keep their seasons going in hopes of winning championships. There will be highs and lows, joys and sorrows, laughter and tears as teams try to keep their seasons going as long as they possibly can.

Whether it’s over after one game or continues for a few weeks until a trophy is in sight, the postseason doesn’t last long, so it’s important to manage your emotions so you can play your best and enjoy the experience, says University of Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell.

"It’s an important topic, especially around playoffs, with the end of the season coming and, for some at the older levels, the end of careers looming,” said Crowell, the 2017 AHCA Division I Coach of the Year.

And that advice isn’t just for players. It’s for coaches and parents, too.

Here are some tips from Crowell on how to be mindful of your emotions:

Stay in the Moment

It’s easy to look ahead, to look at the schedule or the brackets and anticipate what’s coming. But, Crowell says, “It’s important to stay in the moment, not to get too far ahead of yourself, not to think about what an outcome leads to.”

Focus on what’s in front of you, she says. That could be the game you’re about to play, the first period of that game, and even the first shift.

“You can even break it down to five minutes – the first five, focusing on the pace of the game, getting pucks deep, not getting too emotional,” Crowell said. “The more coaches preach about it, it gets the captains talking about it, and the team takes off from there.”

But no matter what happens that first period, first five minutes, or first shift, don’t get too high or too low. Your team may have jumped out to an early lead or fallen behind quickly. What’s done is done. Focus on the next shift, the next five minutes, the next period.

Trust Your Preparation

Just because it’s the playoffs doesn’t mean everything changes. You’ve been practicing and playing since the fall. Be confident in what you’ve been doing between then and now.

“A lot of confidence comes from trusting everything you’ve done up to this point,” Crowell said. “Trust the teammates around you and what you’ve been doing all season long. They’ve been putting as much into it as you have. Trust your coaches and what they’ve tried to do to prepare you as well. Trust your instincts.”

Don’t Get Discouraged

When emotions run high, one bad thing can lead to another. So it’s important, the coach says, to “look at what’s in front of you, not what’s behind you” — even if you go down by a goal or two.

“The game is so fast and filled with mistakes,” Crowell said, “what separates the better teams is how you bounce back. Have good body language. Get up, get back, get ready to go because the next shift is starting. Everybody knows, one shot and you’re right back in the game.

“So focus on what’s next, make positive comments, try to stay loose.”

Stay on Schedule

A good way to keep emotions in check is to treat the late-season and playoff games like any other. That’s not always easy to do, but, it helps to stick to your normal routine, whether that’s practice, doing your homework, eating meals or going to bed at regular times.

“There’s comfort in the routine,” Crowell said. “Obviously your mind’s going to race (as you think about the big game), but get your sleep in, get your nutrition, do what’s helped you all season long to get to this point.

“It’s easier said than done, but the more you can go about your business as usual, the better off you can be.”

Show the Love

This one’s for the coaches and parents: Keep your emotions in check, too. Be positive with your players, your daughters, your sons. Show them that you love them. If your kids want to talk about the big games ahead, be positive and level-headed. But remember, just like adults, kids need a mental break sometimes, too. It shouldn’t be 24/7 hockey talk.

"Parents, enjoy it,” Crowell said. “But simply understanding that there are already heightened emotions will help. What can you do differently? Positive reinforcement of how they’re playing. Making sure they’re prepared — getting to bed, eating well. Checking in on them.”

Crowell says she likes to regularly remind her team that she loves them.

“If players know you love them that’s a great message as you head to the playoffs,” she said. “It takes the pressure off, knowing that you still love them regardless of the outcome.”

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