Post #130 – 9/6/23 – Welcome To The Adjustment Phase
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It Takes Time To Get Up To Speed
Adjusting To A New Age Group Or Level of Play Takes Time. It’s Suppose To Be Hard – Embrace It!
It’s a new year at a new age level. You’ve just had your first few weeks of practices & games with your new team. Your coaches have been great. New teammates seem awesome. And now, weekly practices and games have begun. You’re excited for a great year.
But as the season has gotten underway, you feel as though things aren’t going too well.
You’re not happy with how you are playing–no goals scored, no assists, you can’t make pass and you got roasted defending a few 1v1’s. Some of the older girls on the team are giving you the stink-eye with every missed pass. You didn’t think moving up would be this hard. You’re feeling a little lost and don’t know to make things better. You are super frustrated!
Does this sound familiar?
Well, for anyone who moved up an age group, skipped one entirely, or is playing at a higher level like AA to AAA, tier II to tier I, or even tier I to NCAA D-I or D-III… this situation is extremely common.
You have begun – The Adjustment Phase. That period of time when a player struggles with their play at a new age or competitive level before settling in and getting comfortable.
Players… before you have a total meltdown and think you’re terrible at hockey and should quit the game… and for you parents out there too – before you voice your disappointment in your daughter’s performance – again, just know this:
Almost every hockey player – at every level – goes through a period of adjustment. Doesn’t matter if you’re going from U14 to U16, Tier II to Tier I, Tier I to NCAA D-I / D-III. It’s part of the natural development process and it’s suppose to be difficult for you.
It’s extremely rare for players to seamlessly transition to a new level and have major success right off the bat.
So why an adjustment? Well for starter’s, biology plays a huge role. As you move from one age level to the next, you can expect to play against older (2 years older in some cases), players who are typically more physically developed, more skilled, and who do everything quicker and faster. So for the younger player just starting out at a particular age group… they tend to be a little smaller, not as physically developed, not as skilled or as fast and as quick as their competition. Thus – the success is harder to have. The game becomes harder to process and think, and thus more mistakes get made and you have less of an impact on the game.
This adjustment isn’t just in hockey skill set or physical strength. There is a mental processing or hockey IQ component (which is a skill too) and a social dynamic in play as well. Your brain processes the game a certain way and that changes as you get older and your brain develops. The theory being… the older you get, the quicker you can process. Everyone processes information differently. To some, it’s more visual, players need to see it in order to understand it. To others it’s more auditory, once they hear it explained, they get it. And still, others need both so they can make the connections.
The social dynamic piece is really big and I’m guessing often overlooked as to how long. aplayers adjustment phase can be. Say you are in grade 9 and made your HS varsity team… now playing with girls who are 4 years older. That locker room is WAY different than if you were playing with just grade 9/10 players. The social dynamic of a team can make that adjustment period much longer. Imagine the stress level of a younger player who is trying to fit in with girls that much older? Make a few mistakes on the ice and you can bet that younger player is super worried about how the older girls view her.
So how do you avoid The Adjustment Phase?
For starter’s, you don’t. It’s not and ‘if’ question, but ‘when’. And when it happens, usually at the beginning of the season, you’re best to find ways to cope with it then to pretend it isn’t happening to you.
#1 – Have a positive mindset about your hockey development and know the adjustment is all part of YOUR process.
#2 – Realizing what you need to fix or adjust in your game is like getting answers to the test. If the game of hockey is the exam, once you know what to work on, you can then focus on those areas while letting nature take its course on the physical side of your development.
#3 – Having realistic expectations about your play is also SUPER important. If you’re in the first year at a new age level and expect to score 50 goals while you only scored 13 the year before, that probably isn’t the best frame of mind to be in. However, if you focus on process driven goals, you will focus on something that is absolutely attainable and in your control – no one else’s – not even your opponent. All you need is your work ethic and determination. For example, if your shot needs work, a goal of shooting 1,000 pucks a week vs. getting 10 shots per game is much better to focus on. Goals that drive the process of improvement are really key.
There is no exact timeline of when a player gets over the hump on her adjustment phase. Some players take mere weeks, some months, some even longer. It’s one of those things that takes as long as it takes. You can’t fake it either, the game – and your performance – doesn’t lie (it’s like video).
Look at your ‘adjustment phase’ as an advantage… Identify what needs adjusting, focus on attainable, process-driven goals, and keep a positive attitude about the challenge of adjusting!
Until Next Time Everyone… Be Well and Take Care,
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Grant Kimball is founder and contributing writer at Women’s College Hockey.org and beginning his 4th season as an Assistant Coach with the Yale University women’s hockey program. Grant has developed an experienced perspective in the world of women’s ice hockey, having coached and recruited players from across the globe during his 25+ year amateur and NCAA coaching career. He has coached at 6 NCAA DIII and DI programs in the NCHA (D3), the CHA, WCHA, Hockey East, ECAC, and the Ivy League (DI). Beyond coaching, Grant served as a site representative for the 2019 NCAA quarterfinal of the D-I NCAA Tournament. He also currently serves as an Officer with the American Hockey Coaches Association as Vice President of Membership and sits on the AHCA’s Women’s Hockey Executive Committee.