The NHL regular season is an 82 game marathon that taxes teams and players to their absolute limit not only physically, but mentally. When the mental portion of the game is discussed, it is often more to do with the lack of focus within the team and questioning their mental toughness.
Last year, Robin Lehner opened up about his mental health struggles and it’s a discussion that needs to be had among teams in the NHL, including the Dallas Stars. Pat Doney of NBC 5 DFW did an excellent piece on how the Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks have hired mental health coaches to help their players maintain their focus and not get too negative about their game.
It is impossible to expect a team to be focused and play their best game for 82 games plus the postseason. The physical wear and tear on the bodies of the players is too great. The addition of a mental health coach for the Dallas Stars – really the entire NHL – is something that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Players have at their disposal someone to train them in skating, shooting, defending, physical rehabilitation, but the lack of a mental trainer to help not only the players but the coaches as well get through the season would be absolutely invaluable for the team.
At times last season, there were examples of Stars players who were struggling to find the back of the net, Valeri Nichushkin being the best example. While coach Jim Montgomery is certainly a positive type personality, at the end of the day he has to make lineup decisions based on who is playing well at the time and if a player isn’t performing, they are going to have to sit. If the player can have someone who is a part of the organization there to help them keep their mind right and stay focused, it not only makes the player better off, but it helps the head coach have one less thing to worry about.
Crucially, the addition of a mental health coach to the Stars organization also provides that sounding board that sometimes a player feels like they need. It provides another outlet for player frustrations and a source of coping techniques that can help aid a player maintain their confidence and focus during a rough patch. The Dallas Stars have added veteran players this season, but they still have a core group of young players who will be the keys to the team’s success.
Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Jason Dickinson will all be vital as they look to follow up excellent seasons in an important year for their development. Keeping their focus and confidence in the upcoming season is incredibly vital given the expectations of this team, which is Stanley Cup or bust given the talent and additions. The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the teams to have employed a sports psychologist and there is no doubt that it helped Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby raise the Stanley Cup two and three times respectively.
In sports – and life as well – topics such anxiety, depression, and stress are difficult to discuss. Each and every person has unique perspectives, experiences, and ideas making it an incredibly complex topic.
Despite the difficulty, it is a topic that needs to be discussed. The easiest thing to forget is that these players are human beings who feel real emotions and deal with real struggles on a daily basis.
Providing them with an abundance of resources to help deal with these problems will do more than just help a team win more games – it will help the player as a person.
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