Commentary Ownership

Looks Like it’s Time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to “Come to Jesus”


The time has come for Ron Wilson to get the Leafs back on track for the home stretch of the regular season.

With the NHL’s trade deadline come and gone this past Monday, upper management of the Toronto Maple Leafs has strongly indicated that they believe the talent pool in the locker room is good enough to make the playoffs. With their recent play seeming to indicate the opposite though (see also: Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to conference rivals, The Florida Panthers), it may be time for a more abrupt message. Now is the time for what is often known as the “Come to Jesus” speech. Not to be confused with a sudden influx of religious fervour, a CTJ speech or moment is one that some teams or individuals may require in order to try get back on track when they seem to have lost their way. It is usually a moment in which an honest appraisal of what has been happening takes place, and one tries to plot a course for the future that will help lead to better results.

A CTJ speech doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to change everything about how to play the game. In many instances, it’s not about WHAT athletes are doing, so much as HOW they are doing it. Effort, intensity, and approach can all have a huge effect on eventual outcomes. If anyone (let alone, more than one) of these factors is lacking, results can be disastrous.

So what would I say? The first place I would start would be with the mindset of the team. With a record of 1-8-1 over the last 10 games, you have the makings of a team that is frustrated, lacks confidence, and is beginning to get desperate as the playoffs loom and they currently find themselves on the outside looking in.  Additionally, the dynamic starting to shape up in Toronto is very much an “Us vs. Them” situation. The team is being assaulted on all sides. Their opponents want them to not make the playoffs for obvious reasons; The fans are frustrated, booing during games, and calling for the head coach to be fired; The media continue to pour on the pressure with their constant second guessing and armchair quarterbacking. It’s an easy dynamic to fall into, so why not go for it? Think of the pennant run sequence at the end of the movie “Major League.” An overly dramatic example, sure, but the basic premise is there. Everyone either thinks you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to make the playoffs. Prove ‘em wrong.

Once the mindset of the team is taken care of, I’d get down to the nuts and bolts of how to go about finishing the season strong. Namely, I’d point out that now is the time to set some short-term goals and narrow the focus of the team. The season isn’t 82 games anymore – it’s 19. Shortening the focus of the athletes to view the remaining games as a sprint to the finish can also have a large effect on the intensity they bring to each game. It’s not about being 3 points out of the playoffs. It’s not about needing your opponents to do badly. It IS about making the most of the 19 games left before the playoffs begin. Focus on those things that you can control and forget the rest.  A reasonable goal at this point is winning at LEAST 10 of those games. A better goal would be winning 14. One of the keys in goal setting is to make sure to set difficult, yet not impossible goals. Another key, especially in this case, is to set goals that, even if they aren’t reached, put you in a much better spot than you were previously. Winning 10 of the next 19 games would be a big lift for the Leafs. It would definitely put them in contention, but what happens if they get to that 10th win with 6 or 7 games to go? The last thing you want at that stage is to take the foot off the accelerator once the goal has been reached. With a 14 game goal, The Leafs may not achieve their goal, but they may win 11 or 12 in the process, which would almost assure them a playoff spot. Additionally, since they didn’t achieve their initial goal, it gives them somewhere else to go once they’ve reached the playoffs, rather than simply saying “hey, we made it!” and losing in the first round.

Finally, I’d point out that times like this are about going back to the basics. The players know the systems at this point in the season – they know what they need to do in order to succeed. Shorter, higher intensity practices should be all they need to maintain their focus and stay energized for the last push to the finish. The key isn’t to try and do anything fancy, over the top, or drastically different in terms of actual gameplay. Rather, they need to focus on an earnest, intense effort for the next 30 days of the regular season. The Leafs have systems in place that work. One need only look at the month of January in which they went an entire calendar month without giving up a goal on the penalty kill for proof of that. The key is sticking with that approach every shift of every game. The team’s leadership, especially head coach Ron Wilson and Captain Dion Phaneuf, need to press that point home. Amen.

Commentary Ownership

The Hangover of Champions, Part 2


In the field of sport psychology, we are always trying to help clients understand what distractions exist within their worlds, and how best to manage them. In many cases, the “hangover of champions” can result simply from an overload of distractions, much to the detriment of the athlete(s) performance. The following addresses some of the issues brought up in the last post, along with some ideas on how to mitigate the effects of the champion’s hangover. Consider the following to be “a Bloody Mary and 2 advil” for your mind.

Culture: With regards to the “types” of champions discussed earlier, the focus here should really be put on the first type (i.e., the champions who, for however short a period of time, relax). Any time that you are successful at reaching your goals, you should always take time to enjoy it. That being said, its important to know when to draw the line between celebrating the past, and preparing for the future. In most sports, there is a specific time period built in to enjoy this: The Offseason. In others, such as golf, one has only a week before another tournament begins. The key is to make a conscious choice once training resumes to leave the championship behind. Prior accomplishments are nice, but the world of sports is notorious for the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that seems to prevail at the highest levels of competition. Once training for a new season or event commences, it’s important to commit to that training entirely. Taking time off or continuing to be self-congratulatory will only make your job harder.

Overconfidence: Yes, you’re a champion. And no, that can never be taken away from you. But what is in the past is done with. Confidence is a fickle thing. Often, having too much can be just as detrimental as not having enough. In a way, a champion must distance themselves from the crowds and congratulations that so often can lead to an inflated sense of confidence. That’s not to say they have to be distant or unappreciative of the attention. But it must be taken with a grain of salt. Think of a champion like Wayne Gretzky. For much of his career, Gretzky was referred to as “The Great One” yet he was always humble, and worked just as hard (if not harder) at practice as anyone else on his team. As a result of this combination of his humility and work ethic, he was able to live up to the name the media and fans had given him. Ultimately it comes down to a daily commitment to applying oneself to the task at hand the best of your abilities.

Routines: Upon winning, especially for the first time, maintaining one’s routines becomes even more important than ever before. In some cases, routines may need to be adjusted, but establishing and maintaining one’s routines – before, during, and after a competition – is extremely important in making sure that one is always in the right mindset to compete. Perhaps you need to make some extra time for the media based on the increased visibility you have, perhaps a rearrangement of your training schedule is needed. Whatever the modifications to your routines that need to be made, they should be made on your own terms, and should ALWAYS be structured such that your preparation for competition the first priority.

Visibility: As mentioned earlier, now that you’re a champion, you also have a target on your back. However, the worst thing you can do is start playing as though you now have something to lose. Not that there are ever any “easy wins” at the highest levels of competition, but it’s important to remember that your competition knows exactly who you are and what you’re capable of. As such, its important to enter each competition expecting the best performance from your competition, so that you can make a conscious effort to give your best that day as well, and ultimately give yourself the best chance at a victory.

In the end, the champion’s hangover usually resolves itself, since every competitor inevitably comes back to wanting to win again, rather than resting on his/her laurels. Hopefully some of the info above provided insight on how to alleviate the symptoms of the “Champion’s Hangover.”