Monday, March 26, 2007

The Doctor is in

It would appear that the Calgary Flames have finally shaken the road trip reverses, having taken a road victory out of Chicago Sunday.

The win, a timely one on the road comes about as the Calgary media begin to obsess over their woeful road record. The Calgary Sun consulted a Calgary sports psychologist to try and help Calgarians understand why they’re team truly believes that there’s no place but home to win a game.

With the best record while in the friendly confines of the Pengrowth Saddledome, the Flames have over the last couple of months become quite fearful of life on the road, regularly losing games that they normally should win and giving teams that had no hope of a playoff spot a few weeks ago sudden life down the stretch.

The Sun asked Derek Robinson, to take a look at the factors contributing to the Flame outs on the road and offer up some hope for Calgarians worried that their heroes may just back their way out of the playoff race.

What's up, doc?
Sports psychologist weighs in on flames' road woes
March 25, 2007

There are rare occasions in professional sports when you don't want to be forever remembered.
Never has an NHL team finished with the league's best record at home paired with the most dismal showing on the road.

The Calgary Flames, the only team with 30 wins as host this year, are trying to avoid that distinction -- which would surely live on as trivia fodder for an eternity -- by climbing out of the road basement starting today in Chicago against the Blackhawks (1 p.m., Sportsnet, FAN 960).
Difficulties on the road are not uncommon for athletes.

Sport psychologist Derek Robinson has worked with teams and individuals at Calgary's Canadian Sport Centre and says the mental aspect of succeeding away from home is linked to the physical aspects of performance.

"I work with a lot of teams that travel and compete in Europe and here in North America," said Robinson. "They really have to understand what it is that they want in each specific situation.
"Some athletes at home will feel more comfortable and they'll be performing and playing to win. But then they'll go on the road and there will be distractions, there'll be different sorts of pressures.

"It may change from wanting to win to wanting or playing not to lose. It affects the total behaviour of the athletes -- how they think, how they act, how they feel -- and even their physiology."

That may explain some of the difficulties on the Flames' previous road trips, which can form a sort of mental block difficult to overcome.

"Everything's easier with success. Everything's more clear, there's no doubts there's no questions," said Robinson. "Without that success it's harder because you're not as sure about what to do and what works for you and how to do it. That requires getting back and keeping it simple so that you're doing things that you know and completely believe in and are willing to commit to -- I know you hear that in hockey a lot, keep it simple, back to basics."

Clarity and commitment to the way the game has to be played is something the Flames have recently rediscovered and they hope to carry their success in wins over Nashville and Detroit on the current four-game swing.

"With confidence, it's easy to want to win (and making it happen)," said Robinson.

"When you don't have that confidence or you haven't had the success, you've sometimes got to scale it back to some process goals or performance goals of doing little things right. Smaller steps until the wins start coming."

That's what the Flames did in last week's victories. Returning to the defensively committed game plan worked in playoff-style performances over the Predators and Wings but another test begins today when they again venture outside their home comfort zone where their daily routine changes to include travel and a different environment for down time.

Calgary Stampeders defensive tackle Randy Chevrier plays a completely different sport but understands the obstacles of travel.

"It's a disruption of your daily routine," said Chevrier.

"At home you've got a routine of practice and stuff. It changes things up. In hockey, sometimes you have back-to-back games. That can't be easy to go through. You just had one game, you've got to get up for the next one and there's travel in between. I can imagine that could be a disruption on your daily activities."

Routines are such an important aspect of a pro athlete's preparation that Chevrier has developed two types of preparation. One for home games and one for the road.

"On the road I sleep a lot before a game," said Chevrier. "A lot the night before. I don't like to stay on my feet."

Chevrier believes the Flames have what it takes in their locker-room to overcome their road woes and start racking up victories away from the 'Dome.

"Usually at the professional level, it's rare that you'll see this mental block where they can't get over the fact they're not winning on the road and it just becomes this monster that they can't tame," he explained.

"I don't know if the Flames are there. I tend to think that they've got the talent to win, they've just got to get out there and do a few things right."

No comments: