Phoebe Manchester, M.S., one of Mountain Valley’s talented therapists, has an extensive background in athletics – as a player, coach and administrator. A member of Dartmouth College’s Women’s Hockey Team in the mid-1990s, she went on to be the head coach of two NCAA hockey programs before becoming the Director of Facilities Operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ training facility. Since then, she has, among other things, coached at various USA Hockey levels and officiates youth, high school and prep school games.

In the wake of the many articles posted recently about how high-profile college and professional athletes deal with anxiety and perfectionism, we asked Phoebe to reflect on her experiences working with anxious athletes.

Many of the Mountain Valley residents with whom I work are perfectionists, and have a lot in common with many of the athletes with whom I worked both in college and in the National Hockey League. One of the comparisons that I made as a coach that is also appropriate for many of my residents is this:

The best players in the game have worked their entire lives, and continue to practice day in and day out, and get paid millions of dollars to be the best at what they do…and they still make mistakes. Why? Because hockey, like life, is a game of mistakes. The true value of a player is not judged by how many mistakes they make, but by how they respond to those mistakes. A player could make a silly mistake and give the puck away, but if they work hard to win it back – it is no longer a mistake – it just becomes part of the game.  In response, the player gets to demonstrate their work ethic and tenacity and, perhaps, make something even better out of what could have been considered a mistake. If that player had given up after losing the puck, then it would have only been a mistake. The same is true for life: if we quit when we make a mistake, there is no chance to show our grit and determination, just a chance to make a mistake.

A player with whom I once worked was an NCAA Division 1 caliber player in practice, but as soon as a game started, she seemingly disappeared, unable to compete due to her overwhelming anxiety. I wish MVTC existed at that time – she would have been perfect for our program! Anxiety can render even the most skilled players essentially powerless. The more anxious they become, the less they are able to access their skills. Anxiety is a second “opponent” that talented, albeit anxious players have to overcome.