How Can I Get a Player to Be More Aggressive?

The Mind Coach
Ask The Mind Coach is dedicated to the “mental” part of hockey from both player and parent perspectives. Shawnee Harle takes your questions and provides feedback based on her experiences and training. If you have a question to Ask The Mind Coach, email us!

“Is there a way that you teach aggression? My son has become very tentative battling for the puck along the boards since returning to the ice after COVID. I don’t think he is worried about catching COVID, I just think that he has lost the will to engage somehow? I wouldn’t say that he was super aggressive before, but he clearly wants no part of any kind of puck battle. I am hoping you have some suggestions to help him play a little “meaner”?”

What I find more interesting than how to teach aggression, is where does lack of aggression come from?  Why isn’t your son being aggressive?  We don’t change behaviour by addressing the behaviour.  We must dig underneath the behaviour and find out what’s driving it.

With other hockey players I’ve coached, lack of aggression is usually rooted in fear.  And when we feel fear, we take action to avoid it. The athletes I’ve worked with tell me they are afraid of being aggressive due to getting injured, fear they will lose the puck battles, fear they will get knocked down, etc., so they avoid situations where these things could happen.

I suggest asking your son what he thinks: On a scale of 1-10 how aggressive do you think you are?  What number would you like to be?  What’s holding you back from being at that number? What are two things you can do, that are in your control, that would bring your number up?

I really like this question: When there is a puck battle in front of you, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Then ask him to set a goal for his next game/practice.  Can he do one or two things that are proof and evidence of him being aggressive?

What are the one or two things he would do if he wasn’t afraid?

And the best way to counter fear is courage. He can be afraid and brave at the same time.  Afraid is a feeling, brave is an action and those two things can co-exist. If you are watching, track it so you can help him see his improvement.

Remember, aggression is an adult term.  So makes sure you ask your son what aggression looks like, sounds like, feels like so the two of you are on the same page.

Shawnee is a two-time Olympian with 26 years of elite coaching and leadership experience. She is a Mental Toughness Coach and helps athletes of all ages gain a competitive edge, get selected to their dream team, earn that scholarship, and compete with COURAGE and CONFIDENCE when it matters most. And because it take a village, Shawnee also works with their parents. Learn more at shawneeharle.com

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