Taylor Cook

About

I first laced up the skates when I was three years old. Like many young girls that played hockey, it was my dream to play on the big stage at the Olympics. At first I wanted to be a player to catch the glorious feeling that comes with making plays and scoring goals. But after two years I decided to strap on the pads and step into the crease where I found a whole new love for the game. I have been gearing up to play in net ever since.

 

I grew up competing in my hometown of Brantford, Ontario for majority of my youth. I didn't have access to any type of formal technical training as a goaltender and had little knowledge about other teams outside my hometown. I had an intense desire to improve my performance, but I lacked direction and support which caused me to lose my love for the game. When I was fourteen, I decided to take a step back from playing over the summer. During those months I found my love for the game again but was cut at tryouts as a result. At the time I didn’t know it but getting cut from the team was the best thing that happened for me because it led me to greater opportunities.

Taylored Minds creator and host, Taylor Cook

When I was seventeen, I began playing in the Ontario Provincial Women's Hockey League (PWHL) for the Stoney Creek Junior Sabres. I gained access to a structured program that offered strength conditioning, goalie coaching and was introduced to mental performance. In the beginning of the season my coach handed me a book and told me to read it. The book was Mind Gym by Gary Mack and it spurred my performance. I would read a chapter before going into the rink which helped me mentally prepare and get in the zone. I didn't begin reading that book with the intention of improving my game but that was a by-product of it because I played one of my best seasons ever up to that point. I was making big saves that would have gone past me before, I was communicating well with my teammates, my confidence grew more in that season than it had in all the years prior, and I had a much clearer sense of direction. Seeing the direct results that reading about mindset strategies had on my performance as an athlete made me even more determined to be the best athlete I could be. Here I was presented with amazing opportunities from various NCAA and USports universities to continue my hockey career.

 

In pursuit of my goals, I decided to move across the country to continue my hockey career at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. As a goalie there are limited spots on the team, which meant that I was in constant competition for playing time and I needed to bring my A game to every training session, practice and game. I became so focused on performing that I neglected the importance of the process to reach that peak state. I started comparing my performance to my goalie partner and deflected responsibility of my performance onto others. My coach addressed these problems with me at the end of the season which pushed me to take control over my performance by becoming accountable for my actions, taking responsibility for my mistakes, and focusing on myself rather than others. The following season my game improved ten-fold and allowed our team to make an appearance at CIS Nationals in Calgary, Alberta.

 

In my third and fourth year of university I was faced with struggles that I didn’t expect. My mental health began to decline and I lost my passion for going to practice and school I pushed through the mental pain by throwing myself into every other area of my life; academics, volunteer work and community involvement. This allowed me to reach great achievements as an Academic All-Canadian, receive the Cathy Wadden Commitment Award and be nominated for the prestigious AUS James Bayer Memorial Award. But all of these achievements were at the expense of my mental health which started to decline as a result. I remember how negative my thoughts were, the lack of motivation to do simple daily tasks and how heavy the weight on my chest felt every single day. I repressed my emotions and kept pushing through to reach the end of the season. Eventually I sought the help of my doctor and a counsellor to get back on track. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety, prescribed some medication and taught some coping strategies and techniques to help with feelings of anxiety and the onset of anxiety attacks.

 

I finished my university career winning the team's first ever AUS Championship and attending USports Nationals for a second time. I graduated from St. Thomas with a double major in Environment and Society and Political Science. I knew many of my teammates were hanging up the skates, but I knew that my journey wasn't over. I received a three-year professional contract with a team from Kazakhstan – the opportunity of a lifetime that would give me the possibility to fight for a chance to compete at the National level and possibly the Olympics. Misfortune struck just a month before I was preparing to pack up and move which caused the deal to fall apart. I was absolutely crushed when I read that email. After taking some time to sit with those emotions and picked myself back up and knew that as unfortunate as losing that opportunity was that another opportunity would come along.

 

The next day I received a contract to play with a U25 team in Budapest. I was surprised by the quick turn around time and excited at another opportunity to continue playing overseas. Misfortune stuck again when the Hungarian Federation rejected my transfer card. I was beside myself once more and wasn’t sure what other opportunities would come up so late in the summer months. The same team offered me a head coaching position instead. I continued on to coach the U25 team in Budapest, but I felt deeply disconnected from the game because I still had that drive to compete and perform. An opportunity presented itself to continue competing when a top division team from Oslo, Norway was searching for a goalie to add to their roster that season. Before long I was on a plane to tryout and within a month, I found myself calling Norway home. I continue to compete and work to improve my mindset and performance by applying mental skills strategies that support my performance in the gym, in practice and in games.

 

These years were pivotal for me in the sense that they taught me the importance of mental health and mindset and the role they each play in my ability to perform as an athlete. I experienced adversity in various forms that, without these mental skills, would have completely absorbed me. Having to find my own way through adversity throughout my career has allowed me to find and fulfil my own mission of helping others build resilient athletes but more importantly, resilient people.