Hockey Psychology Simplified: Scoring

Welcome to my new series “Hockey Psychology Simplified”, in this series I am going to break down how a certain tactic, skill or mechanic in hockey can be improved with the help of psychology. The idea of this series is to keep it short so I am going to split it into two main sections: What the research says and what the experts say.

To start with I am going to explain how psychology can aid in goal scoring and I am not going to talk about the technique of scoring as this is aimed at those who know how to score they just want to score more often (don’t we all?).

Charlotte+Vega+Fintro+World+Hockey+League+m7-Y_jn9vLkl
Fortunately, I was able to interview two top goal scorers in the Dutch premier league (Hoofdklasse): Charlotte Vega and Mirco Pruyser. By interviewing these top scoring players I was able to find out what psychological processes are needed in order to score as many goals as these two do.
Charlotte who has scored an impressive 100+ goals for Amsterdam’s AH&BC and many for the national team of the Netherlands thinks that psychology in scoring is very important:
“When I am in the shooting circle I am thinking about what things I need to do to make the keeper move a certain way, and countering this in order to score”
When I asked her about her decision-making process she explained that her focus is on scoring and she blocks out the things that are irrelevant. She said that she was trained in this while learning to become a top-level hockey player.
“You make a decision when you are going to receive the ball, it is not possible to make a plan before the ball comes. Once you make contact with the ball that is the moment to make the plan”
What Charlotte is talking about here is a term known more commonly in sports psychology as occlusion. This is the process in the brain which filters through information which is sent to the brain through the senses (eyes ears etc). This is extremely important in sport and especially at a higher level, which she was trained on:
“I had some training on how to make the right decision at the right time and how to keep your focus and more importantly, how not to get distracted from parents, friends, referees and other things on and off the pitch”
Hockey is a hugely dynamic sport and there are hundreds of sources of information while scoring it is not important what your own player 60m behind you is doing but it is important to know what your teammate waiting for a tip in doing.  Charlotte is someone who is very good at this and you can see this in the way that she plays, often she will make a goal or pass to someone perfectly even when the circle is very congested, this is because she has learnt the art of occlusion, taking all relevant information, and blocking what is not needed. After doing this for years and years I think that she does not even realise she is doing it as it has become an automatic process.

RU-EK-België-Nederland-Mirco-Pruyser-juichen

I was also lucky enough to talk to Mirco Pruyser who is a self-professed goal scoring addict. He has scored an incredible 165 (+22 EHL) goals for Amsterdam’s AH&BC and 51 goals for the Netherlands in only 79 matches.

Mirco also believes that psychology is important in goal scoring:

I think it [psychology] is a kind of mindset that creates the power to score goals”

Unlike Charlotte, Mirco told me that he was not taught to improve his goal scoring through psychology, instead, he decided to work on it himself. When I asked him about this he told me:

​”…I have only trained myself in being ready for how to behave. For example, when I scored a nice goal, but we were still behind, I taught myself to not think about the goal but instead focus on scoring the next goal. I worked on this mindset my self as feel it is very important.”

In order to try and get into the head of a top goal scorer, I asked him to explain his thought process leading up to scoring a goal:

“…during leading you try to have a connection with the passer. The perfect situation is it when the ball carrier directly understands where space is, and what kind of pass is needed (Powerball for deflection, bounce-ball, soft pass etc.) the striker can then directly go on with the perfect receive to score the dream goal.”

Charlotte and Mirco are famous goal scorers and have been (and will be) very important for their respective teams winning matches with their goals alone but as you have read already they have a very different view on the role of psychology during goal scoring. Although, they both mention the same area of the sport: anticipation, both of them talk about the importance of knowing what is happening around them when trying to score. Charlotte mentions that she needs to block out irrelevant information and Mirco explains that you need to be aware of the correct information (ball carrier, body position etc). Although they are looking at the same thing from different “angles” they are both talking about a highly researched part of sports psychology: Occlusion.

Charlotte Star

Occlusion is closely linked to anticipation, the ability to know what is going to happen before it happens. For example, if you know the keeper is going to slide then you should push the ball high over the keeper, this sounds so simple when written but if you are paying attention to many things that are not important than you will not notice that the keeper is diving early enough and not be able to score. In order to train this, I would suggest that you really focus on the keeper and try and counter their movements. For example, during training where you are shooting on goal, take the time to focus on the keeper and how they are standing, are then leaning to the left? Shoot right! Are they leaning forward and coming towards you? Try and counter this!

Exercise 1:

Set up a scoring exercise where the players have to focus on what the goalkeeper is doing, focus on just countering this instead of thinking about other things such as your team members. This exercise can also be used in a 1v1 situation, play a ball into the attacker, the attacker needs to pay attention to what is relevant: Defender + Keeper and they need to block (occlude) the irrelevant information. By adding many players to this exercise at the same time would really give a chance to test it. As a coach try and shy away from giving technical feedback and focus more on psychological feedback “The defender has his weight on his left foot, roll to the right and score”.

Exercise 2:

This exercise is not always possible but is something that I use very often when coaching: Video analysis. By taking some game footage from a match it is possible to ask the players about their decisions. The coach can ask the players “Why did you use this shot selection?” or “See what the defender did here, what should you have done instead?”. This is an incredible way of learning that is underused, many coaches I know focus only on tactics but this can increase a forwards decision making in a short 10-minute session. Think about the impact this would have if you spent an hour to work with you 5/6 forwards, with my own experience winning and losing games often comes down to decision making in the circle and Mirco and Charlotte agree with me, after all, they have scored hundreds of goals together with help to their incredible decision making alone.

Vs Haarlem

How can you score as many goals as Mirco and Charlotte? Focus on what is important, block out what is not and more importantly work on it! If you are thinking about how to counter the movements and decisions of the defenders and goalkeeper the chances of you scoring will increase, but of course this will not happen overnight, you have to work on it, try the two exercise examples above and I am certain they will help you score more goals.

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