Hockey Confidence: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Develop It

Q. What exactly is confidence?

Answer: Confidence is a belief that I am trained, prepared, ready and able to do what is necessary in this moment to be successful.  In hockey it comes with a clear understanding of the game plan, my role, and our systems. It is a belief that I have the skills and ability needed to execute my role within our game plan.  Even more importantly, it is a belief that I can adjust in the moment to any obstacles in my way and still succeed.

Basically confidence is knowing and feeling that “I can do this.”  Confidence impacts grit, resiliency, motivation, optimism, and perseverance over time.  Confidence improves performance on the ice and it strengthens a player’s resistance to pressure.  Hoping to feel confident is a poor strategy. Using exercises and skills to develop confidence is a good strategy.  Confidence needs to be front loaded and practiced like any other skill you need for hockey!


Q.Where does confidence come from?

Answer: Confidence has six powerful sources.

  1. Success – having done something well in the past
  2. Preparation – deliberate practice and skill development that has you ready to perform under pressure
  3. Self-talk – what we tell ourselves about our ability and the situation we are facing
  4. Imagery – what we picture in our heads
  5. Our ability to understand and manage our emotions and physiology
  6. Talk and encouragement from trusted teammates, coaches, and others in the hockey world. 

So the formula for building confidence is a combination of drawing from a history of past success; focusing on what you control; focusing on what you want to do; staying in the moment; positive and energizing self-talk and imagery; clarity of your role and what you want to do on the ice; and tons of repetition of the physical and mental skills needed to play the game at your highest level!


Q. Is it possible to lose confidence?

Answer: Yes. Confidence is very much like a skill. If you don’t work it you will lose it; if you don’t front load it, you will not have it. There are also things that can shake our confidence. Doubt can erode confidence. Fear can erode confidence. Keep in mind that most doubts and fears come down to one central theme in hockey: if things don’t go as planned I don’t have the ability to adjust and I will fail.


Q. What does playing with confidence look like?

Answer: Many players make the mistake of thinking confidence equals the absence of doubt, fear, and worry.  This is not true. The best players in the world experience doubt, fear, and worry. BUT, they have developed the skills and strategies to move towards their goals, targets, and top level performance DESPITE doubts and worries.  They do this by redirecting their thoughts, managing their emotions, and having clear and powerful on-ice actions to execute one shift at a time. They build a belief and a sense of trust from their training. This is done well before the big game!  Confidence is accepting the risk of a situation but fully committing to the process without any guarantees!

Confidence on the ice is playing to win, playing aggressively, playing with intensity and competing with 100% of what you have at this moment.  It is accepting that mistakes will happen, knowing you can adjust when they do, and trusting your training to get you through those moments. 

An Overview on Building Confidence

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Exercise 1:

Choose 3 of the following steps that seem most powerful for you at this time.  Write them down. Look at them and commit to executing them before every practice and game for the next 4 weeks.  When these steps feel like habits, choose 3 more and follow the same process. Continue to do this throughout the season.

  • Focus on skills, don’t worry about outcomes; keep it simple!    Suppose that a goal-scorer hasn’t scored in a few games and starts to think before each game, “I hope I score.”  Or suppose that a team hasn’t beaten another team for several games, and they start to think, “When will we ever beat these guys?”  Scoring a goal or beating a team is an outcome. Don’t worry about outcomes; rather think about the skills that you should perform on the ice that affect the outcome. 


  • Break the game into chunks.  Set short-term goals for the on-ice skills that you know you can execute (e.g. I’m going to finish my checks, battle hard for loose pucks, cushion the pass).  Use your ABCs and RELOAD each shift. A full head is an empty stick … Keep it simple. Focus on this shift. We all do better when we break challenges into smaller challenges – puts us here and now.


  • Focus on your strengths, not your limitations and mistakes.  Some players tend to worry about their weaknesses or to look for reasons why they might perform poorly. Others worry excessively about criticism from the coach or bad write-ups in the paper. It is critical to work on and improve your weaknesses in practice. BUT, when game time comes, focus on your strengths. If you have lots of speed, then say to yourself, “I’m going to use my speed.” Don’t just say it, FEEL IT – FEEL YOURSELF FLYING ON THE ICE. Think about your successes and your achievements. Use them to restore your belief.


  • Emphasize what you want to do, and not what you don’t want to do.  Always emphasize your strengths in the positive.  Focus on what you will do, rather than what you won’t do.  For example, when thinking about yourself with the puck in front of the open net, emphasize, “I’ll shoot quick and accurate” rather than “I won’t blow it.”  Remember our example of, don’t think about a pink elephant


  • Know how to stay loose.  Players who appear confident are usually loose and not uptight.  Players who appear quite nervous are generally not described as being confident.  Remember your breathing, centering, self-talk, relaxing imagery, and humor strategies that work for you.  Use them.


  • Act confident.  A.C.E. (Acting Cures Everything). That’s right – fake it to make it.  Pull your shoulders back, stick out your chest, and act the part of a confident player.  Fill yourself with positive talk and images. Strut, don’t just walk. Your emotions will follow your body’s lead.  Body language matters!


  • Simplify and Go Back to Basics.  What are the foundations of the game? Compete in all 3 zones.  Finish my hits. Move my feet. Block shots. Win wall battles.  Active stick. Go back to the basics. Be exceptional at the details and everything else will flow from there.


  • Do Your Job (DYJ.).  It doesn’t matter how you feel – you control your actions and you control your execution of the details of the game.  Make a decision, this moment, to give 100% of what you have, and do your job this shift.


  • Relive your best performances.  When you begin to lose your confidence/belief, think about your previous best games and team victories that you were a part of.  Try to recapture the feelings that you had when you played in those games. Highlight tapes or imagery can both work here.


  • Simulations/Rehearse game situations in practice.  Suppose that you’re a defenseman and the opposition scored in each of the last couple of games because you didn’t cover the guy in front of the net.  Or suppose that you’re a goal scorer and you haven’t in a few games. To regain your belief, simulate those actions in practices. If you’re the defenseman, for example ask the goalie and a couple of forwards to stay out with you after practice.  One forward should try to get tip-ins from in front of the net, and your job is to tie him up, and especially tie up his stick. When you do, your belief is likely to come back. If you’re the goal scorer, ask goalie and another player to stay out after practice.  Practice scoring from all angles. As your goal scoring returns, so will your belief.


  • Create Game Situations in Practice and with Imagery.  Give yourself challenges; there is 30 seconds left and we are down a goal.  30 seconds left and we are up a goal. Create pressure situations in practice.  Think of the game application of every drill you are in. Picture that you are executing against our next opponent.  Add pressure situations to your imagery work.


  • Interpret anxiety as a sign of enthusiasm, excitement and readiness, not fear.  Virtually all quality athletes feel anxious before the contest.  How you interpret this feeling is what separates players who rise to the occasion from those who fall flat.  Rather than pretending you do not have anxiety, interpret it as a positive sign, a display of readiness and confidence.  It is like riding a rollercoaster – the nervous energy is what makes it fun…that is what you are paying for. Embrace the emotions and feelings.  BE EXCITED.


  • Be ready.  Nothing builds belief like good preparation.  Hockey players should practice hard, be in good physical condition, listen to their coaches, learn from past mistakes, remember skills and strategies already learned and practiced, and always do their best.  ALWAYS BE HERE AND NOW – THIS MOMENT, THIS SHIFT.


  • Frame it as a challenge.  A situation framed as a threat puts us on our heels; makes us defensive; triggers the fight or flight response.  The same situation framed as a challenge creates energy, intensity, and focus. CHOOSE to frame it as a challenge and opportunity.


  • Have fun.  One of the most effective pregame thoughts a hockey player can have, especially prior to “high-pressure” contests or in tense situations, is the thought of enjoying the competitive experience.  I’ve seen athletes play their best games against their most superior opponents when their coach reminded them to “go out there and have some fun.” Have a laugh and a healthy perspective.


  • Know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.  Fear, intimidation, and threat about the perceived superiority of opponents is a major obstacle to self-confidence.  All opposing players and teams have weaknesses. Athletes should know them, and through their game plan, exploit them.


  • Use Power Statements.  Develop a list about how good you are!  Your strengths; why you are one of the best players in the game; how you dominate.  Then flood yourself with this list several times per day and during a game.


  • TALK.  Talk for focus, talk for energy, talk for confidence.  Talk puts your focus outside (instead of being stuck in your head).  Talk helps sort it out and settle it down during a game; it lets your teammates know you are engaged and focused; it intimidates your opponents when you are loud and vocal!


  • Under-react to everything.  Bad play – so what and move on.  Good play – so what and move on.


  • Know your vision, mission, identity, and role.  Recommit to your mission.  Recommit to your role. Live your identity.  Focus on your job and your strengths.


  • Use Imagery 3-5 days per week away from the rink.  Take 10-15 minutes each time and visualize yourself executing on the ice.  A great way to do this is to use your own video clips; use our breathing exercise to relax, then watch a clip of you executing on the ice. Next visualize that clip 10-15 times.  Now you move onto the next clip and do the same thing. You are burning neural pathways and creating a mental blueprint for success …THEN IN THE GAME SITUATION IT MAKES IT EASIER TO READ AND REACT!

Exercise 2:

Complete the following, then, reflect on your answers and allow yourself to feel your belief about who you are as a hockey player!  Review your answers daily for 4 weeks. Continue to add and adjust as seems appropriate.

Q. What are your top strengths as a hockey player?  List at least four.







Q. What praise, words of wisdom, positive feedback, or compliments have others given you in hockey?






Q. What personal successes or accomplishments have you had in hockey that you are most proud of?





Q. How would you describe yourself as a hockey player to others, if you took the most positive stance possible?




Q. What can you say about your training or work ethic that gives you confidence?




Exercise 3:

Write a list of six positive and truthful statements about yourself as a hockey player.

When I am at my best, I am……








  • Find a quiet place to relax. For one or two minutes reflect on one of the statements and search for evidence that is its true. Repeat this for each statement. 
  • Repeat this exercise every day for 4 weeks. Each day, ask yourself if there is another positive self-statement you can add; if the answer is yes, then add it to your list. 
  • Several times each day, look at an item on the list, and, for about two minutes, reflect on the evidence for its accuracy.

Exercise 4:

Complete these sentences. Then review this list daily for 4 weeks.  Add and adjust answers when helpful.

Something I do really well in hockey is __________________________________________________

Something I do even better is___________________________________________________________

My greatest strength as a player is_______________________________________________________

My greatest offensive strength as a hockey player is_________________________________________

My greatest defensive strength as a hockey player is_________________________________________

I am proud _________________________________________________________________________

I have accomplished__________________________________________________________________

My greatest achievement in hockey is ____________________________________________________

Success is _________________________________________________________________________

Passion is __________________________________________________________________________

I have the power to __________________________________________________________________

I can help my teammates by___________________________________________________________

I believe__________________________________________________________________________

I am unstoppable when______________________________________________________________

I am not afraid to___________________________________________________________________

Something I am committed to doing better next game is______________________________________

Today, I will ______________________________________________________________________

I am going to_______________________________________________________________________