The U.S. College Expo Speech: “What it really takes to achieve your athletic dreams”

Hi everyone. My name is Susan Hobson and I am a Performance Coach who specializes in teaching mental skills to athletes who want to get to the next level. I am a former hockey player who played in the NCAA at Princeton University and played professionally in the National Women’s Hockey League where I won a National Championship and NWHL CUP with the Toronto Aeros.

I was asked here to today to talk to you guys a little bit about my experience with what it takes to get to the NCAA, having been through the entire process myself.  But before I begin, I would like to ask you a few key questions about Performance to get your brains going a bit and I will give the people with the best answer the prize of a free 1on1 Performance Coaching session with me.

The 1st question is: what is Performance? How do you define it?

(A measure of how well you do-according to how you measure success)

The 2nd question is: where does confidence come from?

(It should come from yourself-shouldn’t rely on anyone else’s opinion of what you are capable of)

The 3rd question is: how do you determine what you are capable of? (on average, we only use 10% of our potential which means that there is a good 90% waiting to be tapped into)

The 4th question is: what is the purpose of performing well? What end-result is behind performing well on a daily basis for you?

(What are your daily performances in pursuit of?)

You will see why the answers to these questions are such an important factor to your success in the following story:

I remember sitting right where you are sitting today as a young hockey player from Mississauga, whose dream it was to play at Princeton University some day.  That was my big Performance Outcome Goal. Little did I know at the time, I had set my sights on the #1 Ivy League and most difficult school to get into of them all.  None the less, I really wanted to achieve this goal and I remember telling myself that I would stop at nothing to do so.

Perhaps like some of you sitting here today, I wasn’t the greatest student.  I was smart but I didn’t have the discipline or the study skills that the top students in my school had.  In fact, I remember that when I told my grade 9 guidance councillor that I wanted to go to Princeton, she actually laughed at me.  I look back on that moment a lot even today because I realize that was a turning point for me.  You see, being the competitive athlete that I am, I took that response as a challenge.  One of my greatest strengths as an athlete was that I wouldn’t let others tell me what I could or could not do. In fact, I bet each and every one of you has experienced that yourselves at some point in your athletic career.  Perhaps A coach or even a teammate has made a comment about what you’re capable of or in this case, not capable of.  How did you respond? Did you accept their opinion as fact? Or did you become determined to prove them wrong? Those moments are critical to your success, just as they were to mine.

I was determined to prove that guidance councillor wrong you see because my goal was much bigger and more important than her opinion of what I was capable of. I refused to let anyone else influence my level of confidence because I knew that it was a critical element to achieving my performance outcome goal. Little did I know that single decision was the first sign of how crucial a role my mental strength would play in making it to the next level. I began to look around at the successful students around me and notice what they were doing differently. They were much more disciplined with their study habits than I was. I always considered myself an athlete first and foremost and therefore, I never really applied myself to my school work early on. I thought I didn’t need to or maybe that it wouldn’t look cool to my jock friends.  Now that I had set my sights on Princeton, I knew that I had to really buckle down academically if I were ever to make it there.  I began hanging out with the so-called smart kids and modelled their study skills.  I also signed up for an SAT prep course because I heard that would be the fastest way to get my scores up. I was exposed to more mental skills all of a sudden, like time and energy management. Immediately my grades and scores started to improve.  The more they improved, the harder I worked because I saw that my efforts were paying off.  Plus, my motivation was unending because it came from deep within me.  Think about that too for a moment. What motivates you? Your parents, teachers or coaches? Or do you know where to look inside yourself to access that internal drive and turn it on when you need to most?

It came down to the wire for me and the realization of my dream to play at Princeton. I was one of the top recruits in my class from the hockey standpoint, but my scores were just shy of where they needed to be to get accepted on the academiclly. I focused incredibly hard and wrote the last SAT possible and it all came down to how I did on that one last test. Thankfully I had developed great mental fortitude and could manage the tremendous performance-anxiety I felt that day because I got the scores I needed and was accepted to my dream school!

Once I arrived at Princeton however, I had a whole new set of challenges in front of me.  I found myself surrounded by the most successful students and athletes in the world.  Getting there would be nothing compared to what it would take to not only stay there but thrive there.  I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in the ocean.  Thankfully I had adopted the academic skills I would need to survive and thrive in the classroom, but for the first time in my athletic career, I began to realize that my physical skills and natural hockey ability would not be enough to make it to the starting line-up. I looked up at the older girls on the hockey team and noticed a big difference between myself and them, and that difference was all mental.  They were far more confident and focused than I had ever seen hockey players be. The more I watched and paid attention to their pre-performance habits, the more I began to notice they warmed up mentally just as much they did physically, if not more. I even observed them during games and saw that they were in a zone I couldn’t quite understand because I had never experienced what I saw before.  They played hard, and consistently all game and all practice, and were even able to recover from bad shifts far quicker than I seemed to be able to. I felt the pressure and it made me so nervous to perform that I would make mistakes.  And once I made a mistake, I couldn’t seem to recover and my entire performance from that point forward would suffer.

Desperate to improve, I became obsessed with what separated the best from the rest. I focused my studies at Princeton on the psychology of human performance and began learning about the many things that affect successful performances.  In my classes, I learned a shocking fact that would change my approach forever: the fact that performance was 80% mental. All this time, I had been focusing all of my efforts on my physical training: working out hard in the gym, eating all the right foods and skating as hard as I could in practices. But I had never done anything about my mental state. I didn’t even know how to. I had never been exposed to anything like that in all my years of training.  Once I started to apply the performance-enhancing skills, strategies, tools and habits that I had learned in the classroom to my hockey training, I started to notice a huge difference in my game. I started to prepare mentally more than I did physically before each competition.  I learned how to get myself into a Peak Performance State before I hit the ice and then used certain key mental tools to maintain that state throughout and regain it when I made a mistake and it was lost.  The more I used these mental skills the more I improved my total performance. And by the time I got to my sophomore year, I was not only on the starting line, but I was the leading scorer and had won the ECAC Player of the Week award for the best player in the league.

I was hooked from that point on.  After Princeton, I went onto do my post-graduate studies on the mental side of performance and while playing professionally in the National Women’s Hockey League, I became a certified Performance Coach and Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, so that I could spend the rest of my life teaching others how to achieve their own top performances using mental skills.

I often get asked the same question and it is the last thing I want to leave you with today because it is the most important thing I can teach you.  The question is always this: what is the #1 most important thing I need to know about performing successfully? The answer I give is that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. So prepare optimally for the opportunity, because when it knocks, you want to be ready.  And the best preparation you can do is mental because your performance is 80% mental!

Thank you and remember to make EVERY performance count!