Bernier deals with big questions by focusing on little things

BernierReporters hate doing it: the game-after-game shuffle to the locker of the player in the throes of a spiralling slump.

Although the tragic figure never has much to say other than he’s working hard and hoping things work out, the working stiffs want to know what he’s going through, especially when the fallen soul makes a few million a year playing a game.

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier has been the victim much of this season, having failed to win a game all year which earned him a “conditioning stint” to the minors get his confidence back.

After all the pathos, the CBC’s Scott Oake was beaming as he interviewed a delighted Bernier on Saturday night after he broke his 0-8-3 start in the Leafs 5-0 win over Los Angeles Kings. For good dramatic measure, he shut out his former team—take that!—for his first goose egg since last December.

As their chat wound down, Oake inquired how was he going to keep this going?

The humble goalie responded with the well-worn line that he would “stick with the process.” You know the bit—keep doing the little things in hopes things will work out.

We’ve heard this so often, it sounds like another throwaway line from their media training.

But it’s not a cliché. Athletes who prosper and persevere over the long haul are consumed by process.

When a beleaguered player turns it around, we tend to look for the big romantic story about how he was inspired to play better, that he looked into his soul or his mom gave him a talking to.

Most of the time, what made the difference was following the process. It’s sounds like a dull grind, and in many it is. It’s a commitment to doing much of the same mundane things day after day; following a strict regime of tasks, drills, mental activities and other details that he and his coaches have determined will bring him more success.

For a goalie, part of the process could include making 200 angled stick saves every practice, a skating drill to shore up his angles, and visualizing.

For a golfer at this time of year, the process could include doing a backswing drill 100 times every day through the winter to make her swing plane more upright.

By investing yourself in process, you make incremental gains that add up over time. It’s not the glorious slow-motion big moment of sports movies. There are days when you’re too tired, bored or just not interested.

But it’s process that changes engrained patterns that got you mired in the slump, or keep you from moving up a level. It takes a lot of work to override well-entrenched habits and patterns.

The big hairy audacious goal gets you out of bed every day. But the goal is in the future; to execute in sports, business or whatever is important to you, you need to be present to the moment. Fully immersing yourself in your daily tasks of your process will move you forward.

When your mind drifts to past mistakes or frets about the future, the process also helps you stay in the present, a much calmer and quieter place to hang out.

It’s what’s helped Jonathan Bernier deal with the pesky media questions day after day, and with the doubts swirling in his own mind whether he could ever come back. Bernier cannot control whether he’s going to win back the No. 1 goalie job once James Reimer is healthy. But he can control the process.

Bernier was solid in Monday’s 7-4 win over Colorado and unlucky in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Phoenix. The tongues continue to wag, the questions keep coming, and Bernier keeps doing the little things that he hopes will lead to big confidence-building wins.


About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!