Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Identity


In the world of sports, many players find themselves riding an emotional roller coaster and don’t know how to get off it. Hockey players are no exception. Moving from one line, analyzing individual TOI, plus-minus, special teams, and analyzing goals and assists from game to game, week to week and month to month, can be a constant emotional roller coaster.

Throughout the season, this emotional roller coaster can have many ups and downs, twists and turns, and can feel like a constant loopty loop, happening over and over again. One day, a player finds themselves on the first line, PP and PK units, and the next week on the 4th line with no PP or PK time. At one practice, the coach is praising certain players; at the next, he is coming down on the same players.

The feelings of being out of control, lost, confused, stressed, and anxious about a situation can dominate a player’s feelings, attitude, and in most situations, a players identity will be challenged if not shattered.

So how does a player slow down the emotional roller coaster and eventually get off it, and gain control of the situation? Let’s begin.

Finding Your Identity

“Who you are” is different from “what you do.” For instance, when a players self-worth is based upon how they play the game, who you are equals what you do. That is the biggest lie in all of sports. It’s a trap and the core of the emotional roller coaster.

This mindset boxes a player in and leads to doubt anxiety, stress, and insecurity. This mindset challenges a player’s identity and eventually leads to an identity crisis. A player is so much more important than “what you do.”

Let’s be clear; what a player does on the ice is important. Players like yourself want to maximize their potential, be recognized, loved, and appreciated for their dedication and commitment. However, hockey is still something a player does as an activity or profession; it is not who they are as a person. There is a big difference. 

Guiding Principles

Hockey players have many principles that guide them as a person. These guiding principles are usually a set of beliefs or core values. When players are uncertain of these values, they end up mindlessly reacting to emotions and thoughts instead of mindfully making choices and engaging in behaviors that move an individual closer to their set of beliefs, values, and goals.  

“Who you are” is based upon a foundation of beliefs, values, and your mission and vision for your life. These foundational beliefs and values shape an individual’s daily thinking, speaking, and behavior. These foundational beliefs and values guide a player in the way they practice, train, develop and act.

When values are established, they become an individual’s foundation or anchor. They clarify a person’s purpose and keep them moving towards the most important parts of their life and their goals.

Having vision, mission, and purpose supported by core values assists in better decision making. Decisions and attitudes towards certain situations become less emotional and therefore, easier to navigate. Relationships with teammates, coaches, staff, and family members become more consistent and less of a roller coaster ride.

Players with established principles and values consistently perform at higher levels and are better under pressure. Players that have a strong sense of their vision and values understand their identity and have better boundaries and self-worth.

Because they live their values on and off the ice, they are less impacted by the highs and lows of the week or previous games. Having a solid foundation is a healthier perspective on the game, but even more importantly is a healthier perspective on life in general.

When players are not grounded by values, their mood and sense of self is dependent upon their performance on any given day. This creates too many highs and lows, which further creates inconsistency.

Players who separate “who they are” from “what they do” can free themselves from the emotional rollercoaster of the season. It is one way to remain even-keeled; not too high or not too low at any point.

Separating Who and What

Ironically, when players separate “who they are” from “what they do” (and I say ironically, because many of us were taught that hockey is all that we are, and we can’t reach our goals unless hockey is our sole identity, purpose, activity), they tend to play more freely, and compete harder and more consistently. 

Lastly, separating “who you are” from “what you do” is extremely powerful in almost every situation. If “who you are” includes foundational core values like unselfishness, loyalty, dedication, and encouragement; then if the coach benches you, this situation gives you the opportunity to live out those values and get better at them. The adversity can be used to fuel identity in “who you are” not “what you do.”

When embracing a philosophy of “who you are” from “what you do,” almost everything that happens to a player becomes an opportunity to grow as a person. Dedicate the time that is necessary to establish a foundational set of core values and beliefs, and use hockey as another way to become a better person. Then, you’re liberated to more freely play hockey.

Is it time to get off the roller coaster and increase your consistency and enjoyment of the game?