"Did you hear...."
"He's so good..."
"I didn't think he..."
All of these things buzzing and whizzing around your head. All. Day. Long. From coaches to scouts, general managers, and teammates, everyone seems to have an opinion about the way you conduct yourself or performed. The less knowledge that one of these individuals holds the more dangerous and damaging that comment can be. The noise is never ending, the speculation even more so.
"How do you think we will stack up?"
"How do you feel you will perform?"
"Are you worried about the rules?"
Stop. It is a game, one that I have loved since I was a kid. Since when did all of this nonsense become part of being an athlete? Yes, I get it, I signed up for it. I signed up for the gruelling practices and 5 AM bag skates. The trainings that have me arrive at the arena at 4 PM and not get to the car until after 11 PM. Those are the things I love.
But the noise.... the noise is OK at first. But like a dripping faucet while you are trying to sleep, drip, drip, drip. It can start to grind away at you emotional endurance and your sanity.
Since I started playing college hockey and even coming to the pros I get asked the same couple of questions every week before games:
"How are you feeling?"
"Are you going to be ready?"
"Are you nervous?"
Fine. Yes. No. These have become my responses. As a goaltender you get asked these all the time. It's always how your feeling or will you be ready. Very rarely, if at all, am I asked what do you think we need to do as a team? What systems do you think would match up against theirs? These would make more sense, right?
It's like the person who heads off to the office, clocks in and begins their work day. But every five minutes someone new comes up and asks you the same three questions. Now, imagine when you leave work you receive texts, social media messages and even the people around you only ask you those three questions. It would start to wear you out or at least grind your gears slightly. Extend that over a whole week until the puck drops and that is how my life has been shaped for seven seasons. There is a right and wrong way to handle this. I have and always will thank people for asking and showing that they care. If I'm low on energy I will just give a reminder that I'm not in the mood to talk hockey but I'm more than happy to focus on anything else. Most people are great, some see more persistent but a balance has been reached over time.
The biggest section of noise comes from the pessimists or worriers around or on any team. You can always close media, not read articles or look too much into stats. It is more difficult when it is inside your own locker. It will start by someone saying I heard this team beat so and so and they are good. Then mention a player and go through his history. Exaggerating every detail until this average hockey player is Odin himself sitting before you bringing down the heavens.
As an athlete you hear tune it out from coaches all the time. You'll hear sports casters mentioning how teams need to tune it out. What people forget is we have been doing this most of our lives. The rituals, the warm ups and everything in between is mechanized. We are ready and waiting for battle, it doesn't always mean we get the results we want. The nerves come and go, I get mine as I step out for game introductions but feel more excited than nervous.
It is a world of noise from the fans, to players communicating everything in the game is sound. The way the puck hits a stick or comes off the post tells you what it is based on the sound. Just like someone talking can tell you a lot about who they are. We've become accustomed to the sounds.
The noise is everything we face while not playing. The questions, the articles and even the social media trolling you will find from fans and players alike. Sometimes it is to get an edge other times to voice an opinion no matter how short it is. I've heard it all.
What still catches me off guard is playing in a foreign country with players who don't speak English as a first language. You always gravitate to the conversation when it switches.
What I have found is the Swedes will never speak badly about you face to face. The Russians will do so but only in Russian when you're in earshot and everyone else usually says nothing or will tell you directly what they think of your play.
But it is crucial as an athlete to navigate the noise and learn to step out of the echo chamber and the reverberation of sounds that make up day to day living in this sport.
To handle and survive make sure you have a few other things in life going for you. Have something on the side in a professional manner, maybe that is school, side business or writing like I am now. This will allow you the chance to step into another world meet other people and not be only in one spot.
Find hobbies that you like. This will range for everyone, but the biggest one I find with players is gaming, reading, or another sport. These help to take up the big empty spaces in the day and be a little more down to earth. Now, most guys will not play another sport but they may watch rugby, football, or something that is enjoyable. I played with one guy who absolutely loved watching tennis and golf. For me, I found it quite boring but he could talk for hours about it and that was fine by me.
My final piece of advice, have a good support system. Whether that be your family, a partner or some of your best friends outside of the sport. They will always be there when you need them to vent or be a distraction. They are the most invaluable piece you can have. With moving away and traveling they can help make a bad experience better and a great experience the best. You'll have the opportunity to share the world with them and all the stories too. I find that when they are able to come and visit it the vibes around everything almost feels like a vacation.
Surviving the noise is possible and needed to play at a high level. Don't feed into all the positive talk about what you hear or the negative. Your never as great as they say and your never as bad either. Keep at it and I wish you the best. Hopefully some of my experience can be helpful to you moving forward.