Don’t Confuse Calmness with Complacency

Led by their world-class goaltender, Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens just completed a 4-game series sweep of the Winnipeg Jets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Price and his calm demeanor have been the subject of much discussion in the hockey world. Over the team’s last 7 wins, including 2 series clinching performances, Price has looked calm, stoic, some would even say “bored” as he congregated with his teammates in the moments after the final horn.

Lots of coaches instruct their players to “act like they’ve won before and will again soon”, but for Price, I would argue that his conduct is not an act, but a measured and trained performance skill.

We all know what it feels like to be over-activated, nervous, anxious, or so worked up that we can’t perform to our capabilities. We also know that high-performance happens in the present moment and it’s a skill to find the right level of activation – not too relaxed and not too fired up.

Learning how to regulate their internal activation helps athletes stay present and perform their best. I’ll bet that Carey Price has studied the Yerkes-Dodson Law – the concept of the Arousal Curve and the role of the sympathetic nervous system. This law states that our performance will increase as we activate our minds and bodies, but that after a certain point, too much activation will result in a decrease in performance.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Our natural responses to danger and stress include: fight, flight, freeze, or submit. The first two responses happen in an over-activated state (where the “nervous wreck” lives), while the latter two occur in an under-activated state (we call this the “drone zone”).

For a Stanley Cup playoff game, most athletes would be over-activated – with their hearts pounding and their legs shaking. Athletes like Carey Price learn to love this sate and work hard at training themselves to use to use their mind to control their internal system so it can operate optimally – at the perfect arousal level.

Coaches and athletes should pay attention to and keep the Yerkes-Dodson Law in mind as they build pre-performance routines – aiming to find that perfect level of activation – not too high and not too low.

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