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Having 'Hard Talks' with Teammates

Here’s some cause for argument on the bench:

Your teammate passed the puck too far ahead of you to connect

  • Player who passed the puck believes you didn’t ‘put the wheels on’ to get it.

  • You believe your teammate overshot to the point the puck was unreachable.

Your teammate let an opponent take a shot from a bad angle that resulted in a goal.

  • Your defenseman believes they pushed a shooter to a low percentage angle for a savable shot.

  • You believe your defenseman let up on the shooter and allowed them time and space to shoot.

There’s three sides to these scenarios: both players’ perspectives and the objective truth. Sometimes one, both, or neither players’ perceptions will align with what actually happened. Every athlete and coach lives in their own separate reality, while simultaneously existing in the real world. That’s possible, because every person has their own world view.

A worldview or perspective isn’t good or bad, it’s just part of how being a person works. You view a game, explain the causes of game events, and understand your place in a game in a way influenced by your worldview (Johnson, Germer, Efran, & Overton, 1988; Germer, Siegel, Fulton, 2016). You also need to consider that someone's perspective is influenced by what they saw or failed to see, remembered, thought, and felt at the time. Keep in the back of your mind that both you and your teammate are coming from potentially deeply dug-in, complex places when you discuss differences in perspective over game events.

How do you ever work together or coordinate with someone else, if it’s that complex? In reality, neither of you are probably too far off - you’re both fairly expert in hockey. Both you and your teammate can be brought to a functionally similar understanding of events when they’re presented in a non-blaming way, received openly, and observed objectively.

The hardest part is receiving information openly. That’s because, aside from having different perspectives, you will both probably be uncomfortable and frustrated when confronted. You’ll both likely share a desire to:

  • shift blame for the comfort of feeling right

  • dismiss the conversation and walk away in pursuit of comfort

  • be overly agreeable to get it over with

  • believe the other person doesn’t understand the game as well

  • yell or be nasty, because that’s an easy way to get what you want and away from a topic

Knowing those thoughts and feelings will appear is half the battle to defeating them or, more accurately, letting them go. Acknowledge the unpleasantness in discussing a touchy topic. Each time difficult feelings arise, practice acceptance. Face difficult feelings as many times as you need to by turning back to the topic and maintaining your composure (Germer, Siegel, Fulton, 2016). In this way, you build an openness to difficult experiences and get closer to playing the kind of game you want to play - a winning one.

Finally, maintain an openness to the possibility that you didn’t see the game accurately or are the one whose worldview is more inaccurate to reality. Not ‘winning’ a discussion might sting, but that's something you will choose to accept in favor of better performance. Ideally, you both arrive at what objectively happened and what needs to happen next time so that a pass connects or goal is saved.

When you want more perspective on these topics or a workshop on team culture and communication, reach out at Otherwise, take a look at the rest of the blog for mental tratopics that stand out!


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