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Harnessing the Inner Voice of Your Players

By Aaron Wilbur, The Coaches Site, 02/09/23, 3:30PM EST


How we can use the science to help our players and teams

Photo Credit: Heather Pollock Photography

We spend between half and a third of our time awake not focused on the present. In that, we spend time in our own heads talking to ourselves. What’s the result that comes of that? How can you manage those self-talk conversations more effectively, especially as a hockey player?

Ethan Kross founded the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, and his research has been published in Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, among other peer-reviewed journals. He has participated in policy discussion at the White House and has been interviewed on CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper Full Circle, and NPR’s Morning Edition.

Speaking at The Coaches Site’s TCS Live conference this past summer, Kross’ 48-minute presentation dives into three main points: why do we talk to ourselves, how can we talk to ourselves better, and how can we use this science to help ourselves, players and teams?

Kross says your inner voice is part of something called the Verbal Working Memory System in the human mind. It lets you keep information active for short periods of time and helps you simulate and plan. That inner voice also ties into motivation and improving performance. When we experience adversity, we stop and try to make sense of why we are feeling this way. We tell ourselves stories through our inner voice to help us understand.

That’s what the other side of this ‘chatter’ can come through when a player makes a mistake. Known as ‘paralysis by analysis’, a player can get stuck in a negative thought pattern after a bad shift or a missed shot.

Players perform their skills through muscle memory. Through development, they don’t need to think about every action. But when chatter kicks in and players zoom in on individual elements, the whole thing can unravel and frustration grows.

To learn more, check out the rest of the episode with Kross on this episode of Breakaway, the Minor Hockey Podcast.

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I’m a husband, father, sports nut and Founder of The Coaches Site. I enjoy cooking, watching live music and hiking the North Shore mountains with my family. My son is a football player, which has turned me into a big football fan. It’s helped me appreciate what hockey parents go through, especially those who have little experience with the sport, when trying to navigate their child up the hockey ladder.

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