Resiliency or Trauma?

There’s a massive misconception around the game of hockey that needs to change.

Everyone understands the game has changed, but so have the athletes. How many times have you heard this one?

“Hockey players and kids these days are different than that of our generation.”

We have been trending in this direction for a long long time, but this trend needs to be addressed and drastically changed.

Everything is different when it comes to the game of hockey, but there are still those that believe the “old school” way of dealing with people works the best when it comes to hockey.

That belief system is archaic to say the least, but still believed by many to be part of the very fabric of the game.

You see there are people around the game today that believe a solid dose of adversity is required at every level to build resiliency and that it’s a must that every player experience that “adversity” in order to make it to the next level.

Players have to be held accountable and that accountability and adversity is meant to toughen the player up, meant as a rite of passage.

Adversity and accountability are incredibly important aspects of the game of hockey and in many ways do build resiliency, but what if it goes to far? The game should be fun shouldn’t it?

What if the adversity that many young kids face in the game, believed to be constructive in nature becomes traumatic?

The coach that constantly screams, plays head games, the teammate or teammates that constantly berate or bully, the horrible dressing room culture that never seems to stop even when addressed, “ghost benching” for no apparent reason time and time again, the list goes on and on.

We are all kidding ourselves if we honestly think those aspects of the game all build resiliency. Those aspects of the game can become traumatic. Those events could potentially ruin the present and future experience of the player and their family. Sadly, we never hear from the kids that leave the rink only to start crying as soon as they get in the car. A player and their family can only do so much to bring awareness and attention to these traumatic experiences because they fear the risk of being singled out even more. They fear the risk of alienation or if they say anything their child’s upward mobility in the game will be over.

“Oh, those aspects of the game build character.” What a horrible take!

You see hockey’s culture protects and outwardly rewards this type of behaviour, just because of it’s past. Everyone’s experiences in the game shaped them as players and people, but why should it shape them as coaches?

The “old school” way reigns supreme.

What some people see as adversity, character building and extremely beneficial, others may feel as traumatic.

We can’t judge, we can’t lay blame, these feelings are legitimate and need to be addressed.

As always communication is the key, it’s all in the messaging, it’s all in the delivery and methodology.

Coaches have to reach the person before the player. Now don’t get me wrong that’s sometimes extremely difficult to do when you’re balancing 20 different ego’s, but that’s the job, that’s what coaches are expected and paid to do.

Everyone just assumes that early adversity is a great thing and in many ways it is, if the athlete has a solid foundation and support from all facets of their lives on and off the ice. If that early adversity becomes traumatic for the player and then goes unsupported and perhaps is continuous, they sometimes develop a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction which isn’t the greatest.

The players that develop that response either fight, avoid or freeze. The scope of that reaction could vary, but let’s just say that reaction is probably more prevalent that we all think. The coach or casual hockey observer may see the mistake or the constant mistakes as a flaw in talent or a gap in understanding or hockey sense, but it could in fact be a fight, flight or freeze response.

Coaches are quick to judge a player’s tolerance, capability, potential and execution in certain situations based on their overall performance and experience. The coach would never assume the event to be overwhelming or traumatic for the player, they would just assume that the player can’t handle the situation and not play them in that situation ever again, which is one of the main reasons why we probably see so many ghost benching incidents in the game today.

You see young players that have this response could have various triggers, that bring them directly back to the very moment that the trauma occurred.

One can only imagine what a young player has gone through in a traumatic year of development and how they are expected to transition into a new season the following year. Even if the trigger ( ie bad coach or bully teammate) is removed the player can experience a triggering event that will take them psychologically right back to that event.

You see the event, experience and the effects are present well past the initial trauma.

Obviously, the player doesn’t want to relive the events of a year ago, whatever that might be.

The traumatic experience can hit the player in two areas physically and cognitively.

I usually call it playing scared.

Many young players are incredibly scared to make a mistake, they try to play perfect which is almost impossible. Many young players window of tolerance is almost nonexistent because no one recognizes the triggers. It becomes out of control leading to the fight, flight and freeze response.

These young athletes play on edge, they lose their confidence for the game, they lose their love and passion for the game because it’s literally sucked out of them by all the triggers from past and present


Obviously, everyone deals with the heat or high stress situations differently. The pressure cooker that is the game of hockey and it’s messed up world and culture can ultimately lead to toxic stress. You see the player relives those moments nonstop, it’s an automatic response and if it goes undetected by parents and coaches it can be catastrophic.

It all comes back to how these traumatic experiences were dealt with. A player’s ability to cope with these experiences all come back to the environment, the cultural make up of the team, the coach, the players family and the players willingness to discuss their emotions and feelings.

Most players just shutdown, they block all the negative thoughts, feelings, memories and traumatic experiences. They have no idea their future experiences in the game and the relationships within it is completely hanging in the balance due to the triggers that are in the undercurrent of the game.

So how can we help these young athletes?

How can make a difference? How can we reduce the stress level and traumatic experiences that some players deal with or have dealt with?

You see it all centres around compassion, not adversity or supposed character evoking resilient traumatic experiences.

Players need an environment where they can grow and develop and feel safe. Need someone to talk to, someone to listen, now that’s coaching.

The adversity and resiliency that many believe to be the be all end all of the developmental process surrounding the game causes the complete opposite effect. Nevertheless, countless coaches and hockey minds continue to enforce, highlight and promote the “old school” mentality of the game.

In fact they are causing players to have a traumatic experience in the game.

Don’t believe me, that’s fine, just ask a player or two that have left the game or have had their path in the game come to an end.

There’s a massive misconception around the game of hockey that needs to change.

To all the players presently going through or have had experienced trauma around the game, please understand that you’re not alone, seek help, talk about what you’re experiencing it will help you more than you know on and off the ice.

See you at the rink,

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