We have all experienced at one point or another. If you say you haven’t, you’re lying to yourself.
It’s easy to see, it’s plain as day when an up and coming prospect is scared.
You see they try to hide it, by being the player to initiate contact first, but they are never the ones to take a hit or put themselves in there first. Their routes to pucks are cautious at best, they struggle in the dirty areas and they are dirty in their own way with their stick, because that’s their way of dealing with being scared or downright petrified.
There’s times where they seem to break the trend depending on their opponents, but when it’s a heavy or new unfamiliar team their shyness rares it’s ugly head.
You se a lot of players that experience these tendencies have past episodes or scenarios that have caused this.
Coaches yelling at them to engage or toughen up doesn’t or shall I say never helps.
They have to gain the confidence themselves which is scary. You can lift all the weights or inflict as much pain as you want, you’re still going to be mentally scared, which is the toughest aspect of all of this.
Taking body contact out of the game at lower levels certainty doesn’t help if anything it continues to enable these “scary” tendencies.
Scary in the sense that this is when players really get hurt. When you play the game cautious you will ultimately get hurt and hurt bad.
For me it was my first game of hitting, I was run into the turn buckle at the penalty box at the old Carroll Arena, after making a pass up the boards, my next shift out I was hit from behind and I mean really dirty hit from behind, all I remember is being propelled into the boards. From that moment on, I was scared, but I eventually overcame it, it was a process, but back then no one really talked about it, they just told me to toughen up. That doesn’t help, it never helps.
Over the years I’ve always been in-tune with seeing the subtleties of hearing footsteps. You can see it from a mile away when you know what to look for or when you know how it feels.
Pulling up short on pucks, leading with your stick, slowing down instead of closing in on a puck retrieval and getting rid of the puck extra quickly and bracing for the hit when it’s not there, you see when players execute these aspects of the game they’re hearing footsteps.
The best thing coaches can do is raise the compete level in practices, increase the reps so getting hit eventually feels natural. Battle drills should be apart of every practice no matter what.
I really wish more coaches would pull players aside and discuss hearing footsteps instead of just assuming it will go away on its own.
If the player is timid they will be timid the rest of the way no matter what level, no matter what skill set, timid is timid, scared is scared, that’s what it’s like when you hear footsteps. In the scouting world we say the player doesn’t engage, that’s a polite way of saying scared or that they hear footsteps.