5 Regrets of a Failed Pro Athlete

There comes a time in every former athlete’s life when he or she evaluates what went wrong and what could have been handled better. What could I have done to change my fate? Why didn’t I make it, while many others around me did?

My moment of clarity happened when I began coaching. It’s like that rebellious teenager who grows up to become a parent of a rebellious teenager. There’s a moment where you shake your head and think: “If only I knew back then what I know now.”

Below are the 5 biggest regrets of my hockey career:

 

1.  Self-Belief

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have a strong sense of self-worth. Likely, it had to do with the fact that I was born in December and that I was a late-bloomer (I grew 10 inches in grade 11). When you’re always a year younger and a foot shorter than everyone you’re playing with and against, it’s pretty easy to develop a complex.

On top of that, I grew up in the era of every coach trying to emulate Bear Bryant and Mike Keenan. It was the 90s, the era of the tough guy. The rules of hockey weren’t what they are now and the game didn’t favour a player of my size and strengths (or lack thereof). Coaches were gruff and compliments were few and far between. If you couldn’t build confidence off of your own accomplishments (if you had any to boast about) and motivate yourself, you simply weren’t built to last.

What would I have done differently?

I would have spent more time having fun and enjoying the moment rather than worrying about what I couldn’t control. It’s important to understand that your weaknesses, or perceived weaknesses in a lot of cases, don’t need to define you. My love of the game was always strong, but I let my fear of failure control my life. Eventually, when I did grow and my physical talents began to peak, I was still shackled by a debilitating mindset.

 

2.  Preparation

A consistent routine was something that I never took to as a player. I was never one of those players who obsessed over superstitious rituals leading into games. I played with lots of quirky guys who did some pretty funny things to get ready for games, but I never bought into it. I didn’t understand it.

Back then I used to laugh at these guys and then complain about being at the rink too early. I didn’t like the anticipation. Back then, I chalked it up to boredom, but now, I realize I was scared.

Once again, the dominating force that is the fear of failure was overwhelming me. I didn’t look at games as an opportunity. I looked at them as a way to be exposed. What if I screw up and we lose because of me? If I have a bad game will I get released?

Going into games with that mindset and lack of mental preparation was severely debilitating for my career. Instead of playing the game with eager anticipation and confident calmness, I was flying by the seat of my pants.

What would I have done differently?

I would have developed a routine early to help bring consistency to my approach and calm my nerves. I would have also spent more time practicing mental toughness training exercises such as: visualization, meditation, and positive results training. A better mental approach to the game can make all the difference in the world for an athlete.

 

3.  Training and Diet

As a budding young athlete in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was one of many victims of poor training advisement and diet practices. Back then, the obsession was with size and strength. The mantra was to get “bigger and stronger”. It was like a broken record, and everyone was guilty of it.

I spent most of my prime years trying to look more like Arnold Schwarzenegger and less like Wayne Gretzky, and crammed my face with protein shakes, creatine supplements, steak, porridge and eggs. All I was really doing was training myself to be cumbersome, lethargic and ineffective.

What would I have done differently?

I would have told all of those meathead coaches, scouts and “advisors” to go pound sand. I would have focused on developing my strengths: Speed and mobility, and trained to be more flexible and explosive and increase my endurance. Instead of clambering to play at 205 pounds (a terrible weight for me to play at, being 6 foot 1), I would have played at a leaner, more effective 190 pounds.

 

4.  Practice – Attention to Detail

One of the things I regret is not being a better student of the game. I had a pretty good hockey IQ (most players who reach the OHL/NCAA or beyond have to), but I wasn’t a very good student of the game. I didn’t embrace the little things that make the difference between being two steps ahead or two steps behind, like: angles, stick positioning, tracking, and gap control.

I took that stuff for granted and didn’t spend enough time on small details within my game—things I could easily control and develop. This was paramount to me not reaching my potential.

What would I have done differently?

I would have listened to my coaches more closely and embraced their message. So many times my NCAA coaches said: “Jamie, you need to cleanup your play in our end and take better angles when closing on guys and employ better stick positioning.” At the time this stuff seemed so trivial. I felt like they were picking on me. In hindsight, I see how short-sighted I was and how careless it was to not spend more time refining these aspects of my game.

I should have spent more time watching video and working on rounding out my game in practice. I always “worked hard”. I just wasn’t “working smart”.

 

5.  Focus

Once again, I put too much faith in people, while growing up, that didn’t have my best interests in mind. These people weren’t malicious—they were doing what they thought was best. They just didn’t have the knowledge to prepare me for the journey to becoming a pro.

On my way to reaching the levels of junior, the NCAA and pro hockey, my focus was always on points and statistical results. It blinded me from what was important to development and success. I took too many risks and wasn’t reliable enough for a lot of scouts to take a chance on. The point totals were there, but the stability wasn’t. When I reached the NCAA, this began to really work against me.

What would I have done differently?

I would have ignored those who said I needed to reach specific point totals to reach my dreams. I would have adjusted my focus to development over results. “Advisors” would say to me: “40 points will get you a scholarship to a good program. Since you’re not big, you need to be a point producer.” I put too much stock in this and my development suffered because of it.

If I could go back, I would have taken a much different approach. I would have understood that my abilities and potential would open doors, not my statistics. If I would have understood that back then, there is no doubt in my mind that more doors would have been opened.

Jamie McKinven
Author / Blogger at glassandout.com
Jamie McKinven, author of “So You Want Your Kid to Play Pro Hockey?” and “Tales from the Bus Leagues,” is a former professional hockey player who played in the NCAA, ECHL, CHL and Europe.

4 thoughts on “5 Regrets of a Failed Pro Athlete

    • Awesome! Ya, I find that most of the values, lessons and tools needed to succeed are transferable across all sports and life in general (work, school, etc.).

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