The Battle Within

The hockey world never sees the battle within. We see the standings, boxscores and stats, but we never see what happens behind the scenes. We never see the struggle, the mind games coaches play or the day-to-day worry, anxiety, and adversity players go through.

 We don’t see or feel the internal competition that players experience. Billet families and the players families know all about it, they are the only ones that realize what their kids are going through, but even then, all they can do is provide love and support.

They can’t change things, or ultimately make things better.

It’s a helpless lonely feeling when things are going bad, it’s great to be there when things are going extremely well, but for many players and their support group, it feels like there’s zero middle ground. There’s no normal. The constant struggle and pressure are always lurking ready to pounce at any time. Obviously, it should be the best time of their lives and for many it is, and they wouldn’t change it for the world, but that doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t real.

As many QMJHL teams approach the 20-game mark, the battle within is always ongoing. The ups and downs and grind of the regular season isn’t “regular” by any means, it’s a struggle and there’s nothing easy or routine about it.

The pressure and routine eases at times, but the expectations are always at an all time high. Every coach and organization are unique and handle their players differently. Every player handles the pressure and expectations differently, that’s why the battle is always fought within. The QMJHL and its franchises have done a fantastic job providing awareness and support their players and coaches. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean players aren’t feeling the pressure and stress of the experience. One would think that would ease with time and experience and it does, but as players transition through their junior careers, it becomes increasingly more difficult to stay on top of the mountain when it comes to your place within the league. That’s not evening mentioning trade periods or the every day inner workings of a Major Junior team.

Wouldn’t it be great to start showcasing the pressure that all young aspiring hockey players are under and the toll it takes on their mental health. A weekly article or even a podcast by players for players?  Obviously, there wouldn’t be any guests on the show because of the code and culture of the game, players wouldn’t dare to share their stories because of that code and culture.

As much as hockey helps people develop positive life skills that will carry them through life’s hardest lessons, some young players are still struggling in silence. Those that are struggling are intimidated to share their experiences because of the perception surrounding the game and their place within it.

I’ll never forget watching “The Replacements” starring Keanu Reeves for the first time. His famous quote regarding fear is truly legendary in my mind.

When asked to talk about fear, Reeves character said,

“Quicksand, no matter how hard you try, you just keep sinking.” 

Well, that sinking feeling is ever present in sports when players get in over their heads or feel they have no place to turn. The pressure and anxiety that is felt by young players is real, it’s undeniable, and it’s hardly ever talked about.

Junior hockey is a grind, it can wear anyone down. There’s a lot of players right now feeling the effects of that grind. There’s always a lot going on in the mind and that’s where the battle within comes to the forefront. Clear, concise and transparent communication is essential when it comes to the junior level. “They are just kids,” is a phrase that usually gets thrown around, but lets all face it, it’s a business, and in many cases the price of doing business can take its toll on the psyche of any junior aged kid.

As a scout at the U-18 level and now at the QMJHL level, I see it every year. Something is clearly wrong, it goes deeper than just the normal struggles involved with the game.

We can talk about confidence all day long, but pressure rots all of that away. The pressure takes its toll every day. It’s inescapable. It never subsides.

In the moment, players might feel alone and, on an island, but they have to realize that they are never alone, everyone feels this way from time to time, everyone is or has experienced the pressure. That pressure takes a toll on everyone. There’s no doubt a lot of players feel alone, because of the perception surrounding the game. I would hope that they would never let the code or hockey culture get in the way of talking about their thoughts and feelings.

I would love to be able tell every draft eligible or every player for that matter, to believe what I just wrote, but that’s not the case or the reality and they absolutely know it.

The games code and culture prevents countless players from coming forward. That’s the problem, that’s why these young players struggle in silence, that’s why they feel alone. That’s why the pressure can feel insurmountable at times.

The battle to stay in the lineup, to live up to the expectations, to grow and excel within any role the coaches provide are always daunting for players. There’s always a battle within, from the rookie season to NHL draft pressure, to finding your identity and role as a key contributor, to finding a place in the league as an overager, the pressure really doesn’t subside for these players.

The battle within is happening right now for tons of players not only in the Q, but all over the hockey world.

If players are struggling with the battle from within, always remember that asking for help and coming forward is a sign of courage not weakness. The code and hockey culture would lead players to believe the complete opposite, and that’s a big problem that many leagues, coaches and organizations are trying to fix.

Wouldn’t it be great to somehow showcase the pressure that all young aspiring hockey players are under and the toll it takes on their mental health and psyche.

Wouldn’t it be great to share these stories so every player wouldn’t feel alone. The pressure is real, the battle within is ongoing. You’re not alone. There are tons of people that are experiencing or have experienced exactly what you are going through right now. If you need help, if you want to talk, always reach out no matter what, always talk about it, don’t hide the battle within, you’re not alone, you’re never alone.

3 comments

  1. Having 2 boys in hockey and a billet Mom, the mental struggles are real. These young adults are competitive athletes, and to get to the next level, takes so much personal discipline, sacrifice, and sometimes let downs. I would love to see a forum in the hockey world where players can share their thoughts with each other in a safe non-judgemental environment and provide tools for these players to help them cope when they get down. Great article!!

    Like

  2. Hi Craig,

    I always love and appreciate your post. As a parent of two hockey kids (my daughter in U13 rec and my son in U13 AAA), I see a lot of pressure put on the kids…I believe that if the kids put themselves healthy pressure, they will have more positive result than unhealthy pressure. Healthy pressure for me is: Having fun to try to go behind what you think you can do, respect teammates/coaches/ref, teams building, laughing, helping each other, learning the game the right way…I always told my kids: Don’t forget the Crosby mini-stick you received in U7 & U9 level at jamborees with the timbits…it’s written on the mini stick: Hockey is just a game!

    Thanks for your post and keep-up the good work!

    Robin

    Like

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