How to Develop a Champion’s Mindset

In preparation for high-pressure situations such as tryouts, camps, or significant games, it is important to be as mentally prepared as you are physically prepared. 

Through extensive sports psychology research and personal experience, and by working with thousands of athletes, I have learned how to teach my hockey players to unlock their championship potential and take their all-around game to the next level by having the right mental tools in place before they step on the ice.

The mind tells the body what to do—not the other way around. This is why we all know similar stories about athletes who had all the right physical tools to be great, but didn’t have the mental foundation to realize their own potential and act on it successfully.

You need both physical abilities and mental acuity if you truly want to step on the ice with the unstoppable confidence of a champion. 

In this article, I will share my reflections in this area and ultimately point you in the direction you need to go to successfully evolve in this sport.

“Do Your Job” –Bill Belichick

I’d love to tell you that this is a quote from an NHL coach, but Bill Belichick is actually the coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots. He has made this three-word sentence the team’s mantra for years. 

It came from him first, but it has since spread to all of the fans—and is now even seen on t-shirts and hats at every one of their games. 

“Do your job” is a simple self-talk reminder of what it takes to achieve your goals. After hours of reflection on everything I have ever known, experienced, and researched in the sport of hockey, I have found this simple statement to be just as relevant to every hockey player in the world as it is to the New England Patriots.

Are you serious about becoming a better hockey player? Do your actions show that you are as serious as you say you are?

Your mind can and will lie to you, but your actions and behaviors will always tell the story of who you really are. 

So, are you showing up daily and doing your job consistently? 

Make no mistake: hockey performance is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. A bad attitude won’t get you very far in terms of sustainable achievement. Many people achieve their goals but then fail to sustain them. 

Hundreds of hockey players every year work hard to make progress but then proceed to watch their achievement slip away and end up right back where they started. 

This isn’t from lacking physical tools or “natural talent.” Instead, it’s from lacking the mindset tools that are required to maintain the behavior that got you those achievements in the first place.

Self-Talk as a Practice

“Do your job” is something you can say to yourself and demand of yourself and remind yourself several times during the day to keep you sticking with the process that takes you to your goal. 

I have said this out loud to myself for years. When I wake up at five every morning, it’s the first thing I say to myself. I have also used this self-talk mantra with my personal clients with massive success. 

When it comes to influencing the mind in a powerful way, I prefer being real with myself rather than using some fluffy positive self-talk nonsense that involves looking in the mirror and yelling “You can do it Dan!”. 

Maybe I’m getting older and grumpier, but that just doesn’t resonate with me, and it certainly doesn’t speak to the high-performance answers hockey players are looking for. 

Why? Because self-talk should be aimed at self-directed action, not warm and fuzzy feel-good stuff. In other words, the keyword in “do your job” is “do.”

Doing requires action. 

Eventually you have to stop telling people how much you believe you can do it and start showing them how much you believe you can do it. 

“Do your job” forces action; “you can do it!” forces nothing.

Well done is always better than well said.

Fear is Irrelevant to the Champion

Too many hockey players out there house their goals within the walls of fear. 

“What if I fail?”

“What if I miss the net?”

“What if I don’t make the team?”

Fear is the mindset equivalent of running in quicksand. Eventually, it will exhaust you just trying to get up and face the day. 

Trying hard not to fail is not the same mindset as trying hard to succeed. Fear of failure often produces the perfectionist mindset: beneath your desire to succeed and achieve your goal is an ultra-critical, demanding, judgmental voice. This internal voice beats you up and beats you down, but it never lifts you up because its name is fear. 

This is exhausting. Ultimately, your fear of failure makes failure more likely. It makes quitting more likely as well, so you can be free from the straightjacket of your own making. Your mind will always rebel against pressure and look for the easy way out. 

But real champions of applied excellence know there is a huge difference between constant self-assessment and constant self-judgement. 

Beating yourself down because you don’t think you’re good enough to play for a team will never motivate you to accomplish your goal. Your mind will always rebel against living like this and it will exhaust you until you quit. 

Fear-based thinking isn’t something you need to “overcome.” Instead, show up everyday and do your job.

Excellence Beats Perfection

The perfectionist mindset is very different from the excellence mindset.

The perfectionist mindset is about not making any mistakes whatsoever. Let me save you time and despair by reminding you that you’re human. Mistakes will come—they happen to the best of us. 

Perfectionism is the mindset of obsession, and obsession always brings a prison with it. 

On the other hand, excellence is the mindset of achievement, and the responsibility it brings with it. 

The excellence mindset is all about knowing you’ve given (and are giving) your best effort. This includes discipline, commitment, delayed gratification, and consistency. 

You show up and do your job.

For example, let’s say you were the hero of an NHL Stanley Cup final game. You scored a goal with only 10 seconds left on the clock and solidified your team as this year’s Stanley Cup Champions. 

The goal you scored was a result of you reflectively and reactively doing your job. But what nobody in the crowd knew was that your team ran that exact same play in practice one week before the game and you missed the net. 

The perfectionist mindset would have forced you to call yourself a loser and ask yourself what you’re even doing on the ice with these other players. You could have told yourself that missing the net in practice was proof that you’re just not worthy. You could have thought “I hope we don’t run this play! I sucked in practice. I’m going to blow this opportunity—someone else should take the shot!”

But instead, you had the excellence mindset.

You also had the do your job mantra drilled into your head. And without self-judging, you were able to think clearly and act appropriately in the situation to get your team the win. 

This is how the do your job mindset works. It keeps you locked in to the task at hand so you can learn to not only do your job, but do it well and do it without fear. 

So, when you’re heading to your next tryout, camp, or big game, instead of bringing a fear-based mindset driven by perfectionism, your mindset should be one of excitement and anticipation of everything involved in the process of getting you to this day. 

You earned the right to be excited for these high-pressure moments because you have done your job with the excellence mindset throughout all of your training leading up to this day. 

“Do your job” keeps you real and grounded, and helps you avoid self-destructive rationalizations.

Quality of Mindset Determines Quality of Behavior

Can we improve on the do your job mantra?

As Coach Bill Belichick himself said, the real statement should be “Do your job—well!”

I would also add your own name, so you keep it personal in your mind and in your agenda. If you want to achieve and sustain your hockey goals, then “Do your job well, [NAME]” should be one of the first directives you give yourself each day when you wake up.

When some obstacle presents itself in the course of your day, this mantra can help you tackle it. All you need to do is say to yourself, “Well, just do your job.” 

When it comes to achieving your hockey goals, doing your job requires consistency, commitment, discipline, and delayed gratification. 

Remind yourself to do your job well when it’s Saturday night and you tell yourself that you are “forced to” go out, so you’re going to skip Sunday morning’s workout.

Where is the commitment, discipline and sacrifice of doing your job in that scenario if you have major hockey performance goals for yourself? 

You need to ask yourself in that scenario and those like it, is this honestly doing your job or doing your job well when it comes to the commitment, discipline and sacrifice required to reach your goals?

Similarly, there are those of you who think that following your diet strategy for one week means “I deserve a reward.” But is this the kind of thinking that reflects doing your job well?

Abiding in expected actions and behaviors to achieve a goal isn’t something that needs to be childishly rewarded. You do it because that is what it takes to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

Self-directives like “do your job” and “do your job well” aren’t just buzz words for self-help books, and that’s exactly why I love them. 

I am your coach, not your cheerleader.

These mantras are measuring sticks you need to employ to keep yourself honest about your true commitment to your goals. 

You can’t just employ commitment, discipline, sacrifice, and consistency when it’s convenient for you to do it. Actually, it is even more important to do it when it’s inconvenient. 

This is how great accomplishments are achieved.

When it comes to the process of reaching your goal, you have to commit to that process unwaveringly. 

You have to do your job well.

That means showing up for workouts and practices with diligence and with your head on straight; whether you feel like it or not has nothing to do with it. 

Anything short of this isn’t a goal. It’s a dream.

Final Thoughts

The quality of your mindset determines the quality of your behavior, and the quality of your behavior determines the quality of your results. 

The do your job mantra is a powerful way to remind yourself of what it takes to achieve your goal and to keep it from just being a dream. 

Self-talk reminders will keep you mentally self-checking whether you are showing up and practicing the regular routines of the consistency and commitment that is required for you to achieve your goal. 

Furthermore, this mantra sets your mind to be task-directed rather than goal-focused, which is an important differentiation, as it’s the tasks/habits that build up over time to create excellent hockey players (and not just the goal setting).  

How you live is a direct reflection of what you love doing. If you love hockey, then training and preparation doesn’t feel like a struggle. 

You’re not “sticking to a program.” Instead, your consistent actions are simply a reflection of your character and love for the game. 

You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you keep things simple by just doing your job. 

The fear, anxiety, and nervousness you have built up in your head before tryouts, camps, and big games will all dissolve before you hit the ice because you know in your heart that you did your job in all of the preparation leading up to this event. 

Champions aren’t worried, because they do their job; this is exactly how you build your championship-level mindset from the inside-out.

Do your job.

— Hey, if you liked this article and want more on hockey mindset and motivation you need to join our Hockey Skills Accelerator system here.

6 comments
  1. Wow…thabk you for this.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a blog article and had the physical reaction of feeling punched in the gut. As a new player, this resonates so true and makes me realize that I’ve been unconsciously allowing myself to slip into that fear based mindset.

    It’s so ridiculous especially considering the amount of money I’m spending on a camp to learn hockey and the amount of money I’ve dropped on gear. It’s incredibly stupid to allow that mindset to dictate my actions and thoughts.

    Instead I’m going to focus on my original goal…and do my job.

  2. Well said. I think breaking things down to the “task” level is important. It keeps the focus on manageable, small, incremental achievements that, in the long run, add up to achieving goals. I am a project manager, and this is essentially what we do – break down the overall goal of finishing the project, into manageable, doable tasks.

  3. Have you ever thought of publishing your work professionally? You have a beautiful mind and a commendable skill of putting it into words that I believe should be seen by more people.

  4. This is FANTASTIC. I live in Mass so BB and “DO YOUR JOB” are in our face. This reminds me of a book I read titled “As a man Thinketh by James Allen. Here is a quote from the book: “A person is limited only by the thoughts that he chooses.” Thanks for sharing Coach..

  5. Wow this article is great. I struggle a little with the mental side of hockey for confidence and stuff but everything helps.

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