The Mindset of a Champion | - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

The Mindset of a Champion

I remember cracking a pack of Upper Deck hockey and pulling a Jason Bonsignore Rookie Card – a great Oiler-going-to-be. I was happy – certainly his card would be worth saving. Today, Bonsignore is a former NHL player and his RC is virtually worthless. During the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, he was a first round draft pick - 4th overall, by the Oilers. Two picks later, Edmonton chose Ryan Smyth.

During the 1997-98 season, Bonsignore was traded to Tampa Bay and played for its IHL Cleveland team. He even won player of the week there; but, after finishing 1998-99 with the Lightning, he was not given a qualifying offer. Bonsignore was released, sat out for a couple of years, and played from 2003-2007 in Europe - Switzerland, Finland and Norway. He has since been coaching – first back at his home in Rochester, New York. He tried to catch on as a player with the semi-pro Hamilton Steelhawks in January 2016, but he is not on this year’s Steelhawks’ roster.

Bonsignore played 79 games in the NHL. He had 3 goals and 13 assists with both the Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning. He is bumping 40 years old now; and, the last I could find, was the head coach of the Rochester Red Wings Squirt AAA travel hockey team.

The Point

What’s the point? From all accounts, Bonsignore was a natural athlete. But, like other “sure things,” he didn’t make it in the NHL. I have seen natural athletes before – I have a friend whose son was one. As a young teenager, what a hockey player! In fact, he was loaded with talent in many areas besides athletics. Athletically, he looked like a hockey player; he skated like a hockey player; he scored like a hockey player. He was big and strong – a sure thing. He dominated his age-level for years, moving up tiers. Finally, he hit his ceiling – and he quit.

I honestly don’t know Bonsignore’s story – but, whatever it is, I know one thing. His lack of success in hockey has nothing to do with his success or value as a human. I hope he is a fine person, still coaching youngsters somewhere near home and making a difference in other people’s lives. But, as a hockey player – he just didn’t have it. Like my friend’s son, he hit his ceiling and – even with lots of chances – didn’t go past that ceiling.


Why do some hockey players make it and some don’t? The answer might have to do with the player’s “mindset.” Mindset is an idea put forth by Stanford University research psychologist Carol Dweck, who studied decades of research on success. She found that people had two different mindsets – fixed or growth. In other words, they had certain beliefs about themselves and their abilities; and, these beliefs shaped their success.

As it applies in hockey, players with a fixed mindset believe their basic skills - like their ability to skate or think on the ice - are fixed. Nothing can change them, and they believe their talent alone creates their success – they don’t even have to try. Many players are like this: they’re so good that, at a young age, they dominate. They fly through the tiers.

But, hockey is hard – and the talent level is amazing. These players soon reach a place where they have problems because their natural ability, as good as it might be, is no longer good enough. Here they lose it, because they have no resilience. Because their skills are, in their minds, “fixed,” they believe nothing they can do will improve these skills. And, they are right. They cannot get better, because they believe they cannot get better. They are always as good as they are going to be.

Growth Mindset

In contrast, some players have what Dweck calls a growth mindset. They believe their most basic skill can be developed by dedication and hard work: talent is only a starting point. This self-view – this growth mindset - creates a hockey player who loves the challenge and who develops the resilience to see failure as a problem to be solved. When they face a problem, they are not hopeless: instead, they say “Hey, I don’t know what’s going on here – but I am going to find out.” Or “This is tough, but I am not quitting until I get it right.”

This belief is essential for great success anywhere, and it is probably especially true in hockey. Virtually great hockey players all have this growth mindset.

In hockey, like life, there are always problems – and, in hockey these problems happen about every second day. How a player works through problems is one key to that player’s success. No one can argue that talent is not crucial for hockey players: however, a hockey player’s mindset and the way a player faces the adversity all hockey players face is also a key.

Not everyone is the next Wayne Gretzky or the next Connor McDavid. But, the Oilers need the Kelly Buchberger’s of the world. We will see who steps up on this Oilers’ team to say: “Hey, we have a problem, what are we going to do to fix it?” That is the mindset the Oilers need to have great success in 2016-17.

 Guest Post Jim Parsons

2 Responses to "The Mindset of a Champion"

  1. Great article. It is absolutely true that resiliency is at least as critical as natural talent. Look at current Oiler Mark Letestu. At every step up a very long ladder, he appeared over his head. Even in tier 2 junior, he was overlooked playing a year bouncing between the AJHL and Junior B. But at every step he kept improving himself and most importantly staying focused and humble. Mark himself would tell you that as a 17 year old he had no NHL aspirations, his lofty goal was an NCAA scholarship. But he seems to have that growth mindset in spades and has done very well for himself as a result.

  2. Thanks for adding insight to the idea - I appreciate that your example made the point perfectly. Jim