So you woke up this morning hoping your broken heart from yet another Caps defeat at the hands of the Penguins, even though the first hockey game you watched all year was 3 weeks ago?
While the ride on the bandwagon was certainly nice while it lasted, you and I must hop off once again.
Seeing the black and gold jerseys celebrating on Washington’s home ice is nothing new, but what is the hurdle that sends the Caps season crashing onto its face each season?
Yes, Sidney Crosby is a superstar.
Yes, Fleury was hot, hot, hot.
And yes, Evgeni Malikin is ogre-ish, which must incite a deep fear into the Caps’ souls.
But there is a psychological phenomenon that must be playing a role.
I know what you must be thinking: Each team is different. The Caps have had different coaches, players, GMs, so maybe they just get outplayed by a really good opposing team.
But what role does the “choking” narrative play?
Pundits and “experts” speak of Ovechkin & Co. not having the “clutch gene.”
Is there validity to that?
The “clutch gene” is an overly simplistic visualization of somthing more complicated. I don’t have an issue with concentrating a complex issue down to one visualization, but when it begins to be understood as the visualization, we have problems.
I’ll explain in terms of sports performance:
The Caps were the best regular season team, as they have been for several years. Clearly, they have the skills and capability to be the best in the playoffs as well.
When the ability to perform is there, but the execution is below ability, there isn’t voodoo or sheer chance that gets in the way. There is a cause.
(Side note: if we were looking at just one playoff series, we could claim that they were simply outperformed and lost, which happens all the time. But there is a pattern here.)
When there are patterns of underperformance, turn to psychology and physiology (thoughts and internal chemistry).
In pressure filled situations, those experiencing the pressure can either get nervous or remain calm. Simple, right?
But what happens when we get nervous?
Imagine using a public bathroom and someone knocks on the door. That jolt of nervousness and anxiety is the exact same as a pressure-filled sports scenario.
That feeling is a result of certain hormones and chemicals (cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, etc.) being released into the body.
When we have a highly specialized skill that we’ve trained, like a toe-drag to get around a backwards-skating defender, these stress chemicals cause muscles to tighten, which impedes our ability to perform the move the way we trained it.
Simply put, getting nervous makes us tight. When we get tight, our body doesn’t move the way we’ve trained it. This is the cause of inconsistent performance, or worse, consistently underperforming in big situations.
If you’re an athlete and experience continuous bouts with nervousness when performing, as I did throughout my entire baseball career, this will be a cause of inconsistency.
I can’t know what was going on in each of the Caps’ heads, but consistent underperformance points to psychological issues.
A “psychological issue” in a game 7 playoff game might simply be a flash-thought of mishandling a puck or imagining the ringing of a crossbar as you release a wrist-shot.
The margin for error is so slight that one moment of misthinking can be the difference between hoisting the cup or throwing back shots of vodka in the motherland.
When the narrative follows you, the instances of “misthoughts” become more prevalent because we become consciously aware of it more often.
Obviously, other peoples’ thoughts don’t affect each person the same way. This requires some serious work to be able to safeguard your mind from it.
Clearly, the Caps haven’t gotten there yet.
Alas, I’m more than happy to, once again, jump on the bandwagon next May!
Caps: 2018 Stanley Cup Champs! (Provided they can shed the internalization of the choking narrative…)
These concepts fit into the framework of Systemized Athletics, a program which I am developing. The blog will be dedicated to the concepts that are inherent in SA, such as sports psychology, physiology, strength training, nutrition, skill development, etc.
More to come…