News & Updates
April 26, 2018
So let’s talk about how the “coaching” you receive is actually screwing you up.
Do you ever notice that the players who dangle when they’re young – can dangle when they’re older? And how stay at home defensemen usually remain stay at home defensemen?
This usually looks like something called “natural talent”. But how do you get under the hood, jiggle things around, and rewire a player to unlock their “natural talent”? Or is that even possible?
It helps to know that we humans aren’t much different than sea cucumbers. By that, I mean that we move away from pain and towards pleasure. (I think sea cucumbers do that, don’t they? I’m not bothering to look that up because I think it is a funny analogy.)
Basically, if you do something, then get a reward – you get a hit of dopamine. This FEELS good. Then your brain says, “Oooohhh, how can I get more of that?!?!?”
Let’s say you stickhandle through some cones and you get it just right – you get a hit of dopamine and it feels good.
The FEEL GOOD from dopamine serves a purpose. It helps your brain link your movement with the reward of getting the puck through the cones.
Then the brain goes: Oooh, I like that! How can I get more? LET’S DO IT AGAIN 🙂
And so it happens again. And again. And again.
Before long, you’ve done 10,000 reps. Because it feels SO DAMN GOOD. Because it’s INEVITABLE!
A young hockey player picks up a stick. They move in some random and chaotic way. And then something cool happens. Everyone starts cheering!!!
Brain: WOW, THAT FEELS GOOD. I WANT SOME MORE OF THAT.
The young player moves around again. Trying random shit. And boom! Everyone is cheering again!
Brain: Hmmm… that feels good again. It seems that when I move my legs this way and my arms that way, everyone cheers! Maybe I’ll do that again!!!
This cycle repeats again and again until the young player is a young adult and playing professional hockey.
Stopping Natural Instinct
Think. Analyze. Fear.
Period. End of Story.
Thinking Is An Illusion
As mentioned, thinking is basically an afterward explanation for behavior.
Ever wonder why McDavid and Crosby can’t explain their success? Why Gretzky SUCKED as a coach?
Their decisions are instinctual. Literally.
When the brain sees a hockey pattern that it recognizes, the brain pathways fire automatically. Why? Because there is a strong connection between the pattern, action, and reward. In short: it feels good. We call this a NeuroLink.
Feeling Bad Is The Enemy
A young player picks up the stick and puck. They try to deke. They lose the puck. Then a “helpful” coach tells them, “don’t lose the puck.”
The player is afraid to disappoint the coach. So the player fears that situation. They stay away from that situation. End of story.
Thinking Is Also The Enemy
When you stop and think ….you literally stop….and then think.
“Thinking” is a sequential process. You think one thought. Then another. Then another. Slow. Deliberate. Process.
Your unconscious mind processes thousands of stimuli at once. Automatically. Smoothly.
Learning to Deke By Thinking (Ya right!)
Going into a deke situation by THINKING usually works like this:
Brain: I’m gonna do this. Oh. There’s the poke check. Oh. Now I don’t have the puck. Damn.
The Strategic Use Of Randomness
When you start a new task, it’s helpful to be as random as possible. This concept is explained in the book Algorithms to Live By.
For example, if you are searching for your favorite food, you’ll find a “more favorite” (optimized) food by sampling randomly rather than by narrowing your selection early.
Let’s say you think your favorite food is grilled cheese – so you only sample grilled cheeses – you will find your favorite grilled cheese. But it might not be your actual favorite food. (This is called a local maxima.) If you sample randomly at the beginning by trying some grilled cheese, some steak, some vegan options, some pizza…you might end prefering a middle of the road pizza more than your favorite grilled cheese. (This random sampling allows you to find the global maxima of your food preference curve.)
The Ego and Fear Of Failure
Logically, you should sample as many movement experiments as possible early on. If you move around randomly at the beginning – eventually your brain is gonna fire you some dopamine. And then it feels good. You associate the pattern, action, and FEEL GOOD – and then repeat again and again.
Even though this is the optimal solution – most don’t do it. Why? Because of fear of failure. The ego doesn’t want to look silly.
If you’re gonna be random at first, 99.999% of the time you’ll screw up. That’s guaranteed.
If you don’t have fear of failure, you can fail early and often by doing random-ass shit. Over time, your brain will make connections by feeling good with success, thus honing your reactions. If you have the stomach to handle embarrassment, rejection, and mistakes – then you can get to this point.
Don’t Think. FEEEEEEEEEL.
You cannot think your way to the NHL. I know this because I tried. And it didn’t work.
What you can do though, is put yourself in a position to learn through feel.
For example, you can study the movement of the puck on a player’s blade when they stickhandle. Then you can test how that feels. When it feels great, you get that hit of dopamine, and then start the process of mastering the feel…urgh…I mean skill. Through repeition.
This is what I mean when I say: Once you feel it, you can’t unfeel it.
Learning Through Feel
Let’s use the Dangle as an example. I noticed that Crosby always Dangles by moving the defender one way, then taking advantage of his stick momentum and going the other way.
If you look deeper, Crosby usually moves left, then reacts to the stick movement of his opponent. If it comes out at him, he goes under the stick and across. If it sweeps across, he pulls the puck towards his body and then across.
He sets it up with lateral movement across the opponent. Either with crossovers or a hip scissor.
Then when the defender swings his stick, Crosby allows his reactions to take over.
He doesn’t consciously think: “Oh, his stick is swinging this way, so I move that way.”
Instead, his brain is literally wired to FEEL good selecting the drag when he sees the cue to drag – and curl when he sees the cue to curl.
How to Learn Through Feel
Players who learn through feel have two things:
- The Mechanics Platform
- The Mindset
The Mechanics Platform is a sliding scale. As your mechanics improve, your platform raises. You stand on top of the platform to do things.
The Mindset includes a willingness to fail, and a desire to experiment.
Adjust the Mechanics Platform
When we talk about “Progressions and Regressions” (boring name) – we talk about adjusting the Mechanics Platform. Remember that learning through feel requires an instinctual reaction to an opponent’s cue. Let’s look at the Crosby Curl vs Drag example. This decision only has two options. So Crosby’s brain needs to hold both motor programs at the same time. And then fire the correct one.
If Crosby’s brain only holds one motor program, how could he ever make this “decision”? He’d be deciding between something he can do and something he can’t. You don’t call one option a decision.
In this case, we’d “Regress” or Lower the Mechanics Platform. We teach Crosby the pattern he’s missing. Once he’s proficient, we introduce the decision again. Then we let him learn which “decision” to make through FEEL.
The Movement Hypothesis
Rather than consider our knowledge of human movement as fixed, we should assume that evolves. I used to believe that I needed to come across as an expert and project that I knew everything about movement. But that is utter baloney. And any coach who says they’ve “figured it out” has decided that they don’t want to grow anymore. I decided to keep growing. So I declared myself a non-expert. I view myself as a tinkerer instead.
This view of the world suggests that Hockey Wizards likely have optimized mechanics. Once we have basic skills mastered, we can use their mechanics as a hypothesis to test. We aim to imitate their mechanics on certain movements. If it feels good, we keep doing it. Once felt, it cannot be unfelt.
If the movement hypothesis doesn’t FEEL GOOD, we might not be getting it. It doesn’t mean that’s it is worthless. Perhaps our Mechanics Platform isn’t high enough yet. We come back to it when it feels right.
If you improve the quality of your movement hypotheses dramatically increases your progress. And your confidence.
I can’t tell you how many times I tell players: Why not try the opposite?
Everyone says bend your knees? What happens if you don’t?
Everyone says lean on your stick? What happens if you don’t?
Everyone says push when you skate? What happens if you don’t?
I take opposing positions to common hockey cues so that players feel more freedom to experiment. I guess I’m lucky that it works so damn well.
Dangle By Design: The Mechanics Behind The Magic
Is it possible to learn how to Dangle by Design? The answer is yes. How do I know? Because I taught myself. Right in front of your eyes. Watch my YouTube channel to see how I did it.
I took the exact same approach that I outlined in this article.
- Develop Movement Hypotheses from Crosby
- Test Movement Hypotheses
- Master the Mechanics through feel
- Slowly Raise the Mechanics Platform with progressive drills designed to introduce the right feel-based decision making
If you’d like to know what I learned on this journey, you can read my 5 Part Dangle by Design blog series starting here.
If you’d like to see the exact, step by step, video breakdown if my progressive drills, that is available to members here.
And if you have any feedback, suggestions, or questions, please email me: [email protected] because I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading today.
April 13, 2018
Decision-making is an illusion.
In talking with a former professional quarterback, he told me, “The decision has already been made for you – you just react.”
In Part 1, we discussed the idea of action vs reaction. Read that here.
So what does this mean? And how does this relate to the setup?
Here is the setup:
The first part doesn’t matter. It’s variable. Crossovers, c-cuts, shuffles, 10&2…doesn’t matter. Speed probably does matter.
The second part matters a lot. Because this is the part of the pattern that allows for dangles.
The second part of the pattern is: Cut across the defender’s body on the diagonal angle, from one side of the body to the other.
See that pattern here.
Now, this is where action vs reaction comes into play.
You make the decision (action) to go across the defender’s body on the diagonal.
Your mechanics and pattern need to be sound so that you can go left or right. You must be able to do:
- Anchor Left and Right (The above two examples are an anchor to the right)
- Soft Hip (The above two examples are a soft left hip – going from wide to narrow to step around the defender)
Then you react to the defender’s stick and body momentum. If they go too far to the left, you go right. If they go too far to the right, you go left. This is the part of the dangle that you don’t pre-plan. You simply react that what you see and feel.
This leads us to the Mindset Of The Dangler.
You may have heard me mention the power of humility, being wrong, and getting embarrassed on the podcast. This is extremely important if you’re going to take the next step to adopt the Mindset Of The Dangler.
I hypothesize that most “learned reactions” in hockey are conditioned responses. Yes, like Pavlov’s dogs and rats in a maze. That kind of conditioning.
In particular, operant conditioning.
In operant conditioning, you take some sort of action, then get a reward. If the reward is positive, you get a dopamine boost. This feels good. And this begins the wiring process in your brain.
What exactly wires? The link between the opportunity, action, and result.
The more you fire this pathway, the more it wires together. What fires together wires together.
We call these “NeuroLinks”.
Here’s where the Dangle Mindset falls apart: If you’re not willing to put yourself in a reaction situation because you don’t trust your instincts and you don’t want to fail – you can never create these conditioned responses. Your bag of flesh known as a body needs to experience many situations until it happens upon the right combination of movements that triggers the right chemical response. So you literally have to flail, in about 1000 different ways, until your body accidentally stumbles on the right combination of flailing. If you repeat that right combination enough times, you form a strong NeuroLink, and your brain pathways wire together. Then you get consistent results. A bonus is that it feels good!
Anyone who can skate can get the setup right. This is the action portion of the dangle. The Decision portion of the dangle.
Anyone can practice the mechanics. Get them perfect. That’s simple.
Anyone can read the stick momentum and the body momentum. Also simple.
But few have the balls (or lady balls) to put themselves in a reaction based situation – where they trust their instincts and let their body learn unconsciously. Because they are afraid of looking stupid. And yet, that is the most important part of the dangle.
Don’t confuse willingness to fail with wanting to fail. Or willingness to be embarrassed with wanting to be embarrassed. No one likes those things. But some people learn to love the pain. Because they associate that pain with growth.
Frustration, anger, guilt, blame – these emotions do not work in the Dangle Mindset. Because they restrict you from trying again. From flailing and failing in new and creative ways. A desire to seek out this type of punishment and turn it into something you crave is the mindset of a Dangler. And over time, as your body creates those connections, it automatically wires the right pathways together. You just have to get out of your own way and let the learning occur naturally.
Please take into account that there is a time to practice these reactionary instincts. And a time play it safe. Off-season. Practice. Fun games. These are the times to hone your instincts.
Game 7 OT? Probably not the time. Stick to what you know your instincts are already good at.
So, to finish off the Dangle By Design Series:
- The setup includes a variable entry pattern
- Cut diagonally from one side of the defender’s body to the other
- As you cut diagonally from one side of the defender to the other, be in a position (mechanically – called “Still Point”) to go left or right to that you can react to the defender’s movement
- Master the Crosby Curl
- Master the Kane Drag
- Master the Anchor
- Master the Soft Hip
- Read the cue of stick momentum
- Allow yourself to react to the movement of your defender. It’s too fast to pre-plan this. Let your instincts take over.
- To develop your reactions and instincts you must be willing to fail many times until your brain wires itself together naturally
- The only thing holding you back is your ego (humility, willingness to fail, willingness to be embarrassed)
I hope you enjoyed this series. I enjoyed writing it and learned a ton. Would love to hear from you – please tell me what you learned and what you think I overlooked. Coming up next is the Dangle by Design Course – which will be the step by step video lessons to teach you how to do this. If you’d like a sneak preview of it, make sure to sign up for the Train 2.0 Membership.
Thanks for reading,
April 13, 2018
I was asked to decode this Twitlonger Tweet from Darryl Belfry. Read his original post with my comments alongside it.
I am presented with one of those “if I had to do it over again” situations. I’m going to share with you what some of the key pieces I’ll do different, to hopefully give you some insight that may help you with your respective teams.
This year, with my daughter’s hockey training group, I have a chance to go back in time with concentrated development time with this age group 11-13 year olds. It’s exciting because, the last time I was in this age group, we had some special special talents. However, I was a kid training kids. Which had it’s value, but I look at this situation as a chance to put in action all those lessons learned.
The following are the four cornerstone pieces, we are currently putting into place.
1. Way back when, I did edges and balance to start every session, however, it was the same set of edges and balance. This time around, we will open ever session with edges, balance and weight shift (weight shift was something we added later when we did this before – now it is front and center) and the development track will be progressive and have specific stages of proficiency I want to hit.
Progressive Development Track with specific stages of proficiency. This sounds like Belfry is going from a reps for reps sake model to a minimum requirements model. There is acceptance criteria for each stage that the players must meet. I assume a player is assigned extra work if they do not meet those requirements at the same time as their teammates.
2. Practice habits was frankly a differentiator for me years ago, I was about as demanding for effort as there was and had the benefit of strong horses to pull the group. I graded my practices by pace, ice management and work:rest ratio. This time around, the effort demand will be there but I’m excited to carve out more “true teaching” moments. Steal a page from the way I work with my private pro clients – focus on feel-based learning principles and a sharper demand for personal commitment to technical excellence.
True teaching moments? Contrasted with high effort? Does that mean that previous practices were high effort without “true teaching moments”? It sounds like Belfry’s definition of “true teaching” moments includes feel-based learning principles and more technical detail. I call feel-based learning principles “Feel Your Body Learning”. My methodology is to introduce new movements as a “Movement Experiment”, then ask players how it feels. I ask them to constantly compare movement hypotheses with their own trust in their body to see what feels better over time. In contrast, most coaches tell a player what to do, and that’s the end of the discussion. Ignoring how it feels for a player. In my experience, players who do “movement experiments” and pay attention to how they feel get “AHA!” moments as their body finds the Magic Mechanics. I wonder if this meets the criteria for a True Teaching Moment? I imagine that “sharper demand for personal commitment to technical excellence” means: Players focus on their mechanics more. And the standard is higher. He might not let sloppy mechanics slide. And perhaps he’d use that higher standard for more teaching moments.
3. In my previous time, I worked a lot in opposite situations (forecheck vs breakout, rush offense vs rush defense, point shooting vs shot blocking, etc) and leveraged the situational focus to reveal the teaching situations. This time around, I am teaching the D first in an effort to stack the technical deck in their favor. I’m going to allow the F to be creatively expressive and rely on their instincts. Why?
In the ages of 11-13, the forwards offensive skill set is generally miles ahead of the defenders technical defending skill set. The gap between encourages the F’s to believe they are better than what they really are. The D are behind in their technical ability to control space and therefore F’s are fooled by a success rate that is tilted in their favor.
In teaching the D first, I’ll raise their technical footwork, skating ability to hold defensive side position, stay square to the defender, use a purposeful stick, force turns and stops, control hips and use wedges and seals – and that’s just defending out of the corner – which is where we are now. Once I raise the D’s technical ability to defend, I’ll reduce the F’s success rate organically through translatable defensive principles. This will stack the deck in the D’s favor enough to see if the F’s can problem solve.
Once I’m comfortable with the D’s ability to control the F, then I’ll dive in and teach the F’s the translatable skill sets that they can use to grab control of the space. Then once the F’s adapt, the focus goes back on the D to raise the level again.
By focusing on the D first, we create a “leapfrog learning environment” and that is a big adjustment I want to have in place this time around.
Let’s start with the term “translatable”. Belfry uses this to describe skills that produce results regardless of the level. Some skills have a shelf life (like straight ahead speed). Others don’t (like creating space).
Ok, so translatable skills are the 80/20 skills – because once learned, they can be used all the way up. Doesn’t make much sense to learn skills that expire in a couple years, does it?
So he’s saying that he’ll teach defensemen these translatable skills first.
I think his reasoning is this: if you want to get better, you need a challenge. A challenge usually means that there is a gap between where you are, and where you want to be.
There is already a gap between forwards and defense at the 11-13 age level. I observe this as well. So the first gap to close is moving the defense closer to the forwards.
Then he creates a second gap, by moving the defense past the forwards. As this occurs, he tests the forwards ability to adapt creatively to the new demands. If the adaptation occurs organically – great! If not, he instructs the forwards how to problem solve.
Then the forwards move ahead again. I believe this skill gap closing – skill gap opening is what he refers to as a leap frog environment.
4. The last cornerstone is “competitive advantage” …. very different approach than that of building “compete level” … with the objective of creating intelligent competitors. I want that fierceness and will to win but through the competitive advantage lens.
This will be built through …. oh you didn’t think I was going to tell you everything did you!! I want to hear what you think I mean by this and how you would go about teaching it.
This type of competitiveness will supplant the current “compete level” and is a big differentiator at the world class level. Let’s build in in our kids now!
Compete level vs competitive advantage? Closest analogy would be business. A competitive advantage is a circumstance that puts a business in a better business position. So one business is actually better positioned to exploit an opportunity than others.
I think compete level refers to pure intensity.
Pure intensity runs out when players get tired.
Competitive advantage doesn’t require intensity. But when executed with intensity yields results.
Any example of this would be one of my favorite habits of “Stick on puck, hands on body.” I had a player who would run headlong into board battles, get on the wrong side of his opponent with his stick flailing, and lose every time. Once I showed him the habit of “stick on puck, hands on body” he turned his intensity into turnovers. I’d say that’s a good example of competitive advantage over compete level.
Well – those are my thoughts. My attempt at Decoding Darryl. Let me know what you think: [email protected]
April 4, 2018
In this post, I explain the edge rollover for effortless striding. And we discuss how new skate boot technology allows the young stars to exploit this key mechanic for a new standard of skating.
The tough part about hockey is that it is this curvy, rotate-y, weird-y sport. Plus, the human body moves under a bunch of equipment. So you get people who haven’t studied the movement making recommendations based on surface observations.
When I say study, I mean STUDIED. Like do you know the origin and insertion of every muscle? Have you reworked your own stride? Have you put your skin in the game and published what you think works? Have you instructed thousands of players?
It’s okay to put out ideas about the stride and movement that are wrong. I do it all the time. But you need to adjust your hypothesis as evidence comes in. I do my best to do that.
I never looked at the stride part of the stride. Until now.
I posted this video on Instagram:
And my astute members pointed out toe push. By now, you know I’m the guy who talks about heel pressure and demonizes the toe push. You also know that it’s not a black or white situation in hockey. The body adapts to movement demands.
I had to dig deep into my brains to figure out how Larkin, McDavid, and MacKinnon stride forward without relying on the toe push.
The answer is the edge rollover. I talked about the edge rollover here. But I discussed it in the context of transitional skating. Since many are obsessed with the straight-ahead stride, (despite its minimal contribution to in-game performance at higher levels) I will indulge you.
Power Skating Coaches teach the stride like this:
- Get low
- Push back with your striding leg
- If you’re low, you get a long stride
The focus here is on the knee angle and the depth of the hips.
On the surface, it looks like Wizard skaters skate like this too. We look at a picture of McDavid, draw some lines, and BOOM! That’s our “analysis”.
If we look at another angle, we see a different picture. Let’s examine the angle between the skate boot and the ice.
If you let this angle shrink by falling forward, what happens? The support leg goes forward. The further you fall forward, the more your knee bends. The more you fall and the more your knee bends, the longer you stride.
With Downhill skating, you are literally just catching yourself as you fall. This is the EXACT same as POSE Method Running. One step leads to the next.
The acceleration phase of the sprinting stride sees athletes with an aggressive forward lean. Their center of mass is forward.
I seriously do not blame power skating coaches. The stride is tricky. It’s hard to tell what is going on under all the pads. And explaining these concepts for the first time is tricky. Let me try to summarize these new ideas here:
- The support leg bends to support the fall.
- The striding leg extends as the body falls forward and away from the foot.
- The edge rolls over as the angle between boot and ice shrinks.
Skate boots are very stiff nowadays. Many of you know that I recommend undoing eyelets with the Downhill Skating system. So you probably wonder why we don’t just go back to older, less stiff skates. I wondered the same thing. But what if today’s Downhill skater was leveraging the stiffness of their boot. Literally using the stiffness to efficiently transfer energy from the leg to the ice. That makes sense when you look at these clips here.
The ankle joint acts like a pivot for an ankle lever.
My hope is that you can take this information and apply it for in-game results. If you’d like to see the program I put together for my members to learn these concepts faster, the same way I teach my players, I created the Downhill Skating System which you can check out here.
How did I do describing these new concepts? Please give me your feedback on what was clear or unclear. What you saw that I didn’t. It’s part of the process of moving the game forward. [email protected]
Thank you for reading today. It means the world to me 🙂
April 4, 2018
Here is how to scout millennials in hockey. Leveraging technology. And identifying value gaps identified through video research.
Take into account that I have zero expertise as a scout. So rather than consider this post as advice, let’s consider it as more of a Thought Experiment.
So let’s discuss how a scout might leverage technology to improve their scouting efficiency. My background is that I am a professional hockey player, kinesiologist, and a technology enthusiast. I’m not in the NHL, but I made it to pro. I don’t have a PhD in kinesiology, but I knew enough to graduate with honors with a Bachelors from one of the top 40 schools in the world. I can’t code or program, but I know enough about technology to run my entire business online.
On their own, my skill in each area is mediocre at best. But together, this talent stack leads me to have some unique viewpoints. They probably aren’t practical for reasons unbeknownst to me – but I’m hoping that they are entertaining at the least.
In this post we cover:
- How To Leverage Social Media For Scouting
- The Magic Mechanics Gap That Most Scouts Miss
- Patterns Of The Pros
How To Leverage Social Media For Scouting
Sliding Into DM’s
DM stands for Direct Message. It’s a way of messaging users on Instagram.
The way dating works today is something like this:
- You see an attractive human on Instagram.
- You follow them.
- You “like” a few pictures on their profile.
- If they reciprocate then you…
- “Slide into their DM”.
- If all goes well, you start a conversation.
- Then you go on a date.
- Bam! Relationship. Welcome to 2018.
But this situation isn’t reserved for dating. Most modern-day networking takes place like this. You see someone’s business account, follow them, like a few pics, then slide into their DM. If the business relationship has legs, it takes off too.
The reason Instagram works so well for this (right now) is that it is free and it has eyeballs. People keep trying to invent new platforms that pull people off Instagram onto their paid platform. But Instagram keeps winning.
Why not use this exact same approach with players that you’re scouting?
This has the added benefit of evaluating them on their maturity and professionalism.
You could also leverage the hockey professionals on Instagram who coach players. By browsing hockey coaches profiles, you see who is coaching draftable players (they are usually tagged in the posts). This means that you see their @username in the caption of the picture. If you see this, you can send a DM to the coach to ask their opinion on the player. And you’d better bet coaches check their DM’s on the regular.
On that note, you’ve probably noticed that millennials suck at email. And they don’t even reply to texts. But they sure as hell answer their DM’s right now. This might be strange for you – but it’s something you can use to your advantage.
As a scout, I’m assuming that you’re older than a millennial. Maybe new to social media. So you might face a few stumbling blocks. Allow me to suggest a way of navigating them.
Having a private account with no pictures and an anonymous name isn’t going to work. It’s best to broadcast your name and team affiliation, show your human side, show your professional side, and interact with the community. The internet changes the game. Things are more transparent than ever. And networks like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn reward that transparency. Embrace it.
That leads me to mention that if a player doesn’t follow you on Instagram, your message doesn’t go directly to their DM inbox. It goes to their “Requests” inbox. So it may not show up for them right away. If they don’t get back to you, that might be why. But the nice thing about the DM is that you can see when they’ve read your message and when they haven’t. Sneaky eh?
The Virtual Scout Network
Let’s take this a step further.
If I was the head scout of an NHL, Major Junior or College Team, I’d have my team set up a hashtag. The hashtag would be something like #canucks2019draftprospect
I’d get the team to publicize this hashtag. You’d ask fans, coaches, players to use this hashtag on posts. This would curate the content into a format that you can consume quickly and easily. And the content would come to you, instead of you searching for it.
What posts might show up in this hashtag? Probably some garbage. But you might also get some hidden gems. Almost all games are recorded on video nowadays. Someone sees a great play, they’re aware of the hashtag – next thing you know it’s on your radar. If I was a player, I’d promote myself with that hashtag too.
Instagram has this feature where you can follow hashtags. So everytime someone uses that hashtag, you get a notification.
I imagine a scout going about their normal duties – but augmented by technology and social media. Notified by Instagram each time a play is identified. They are like a cyborg with supernatural reach and a finger on the pulse of the game. They’d have laser like focus on the hotspots. You could even search the locations of rinks around the world to see what posts pop up there. You know there’s talent at the Burnaby Winter Club in Burnbaby, BC. Well how good is it? How about the Mastercard Centre in Toronto? You can see it there too.
I imagine the scout would look for two things:
- Players that show up repeatedly on this hashtag (with good plays)
- Or extraordinary plays
No rational scout would make a recommendation based on Instagram clips alone. But they might follow the trail and notice things that they didn’t notice before. For example, they might see a whole bunch of highlight clips that involve this player. Or maybe they track down the player’s skill coach and watch some training clips.
This is the 2018 way of finding Datsyuk somewhere in Siberia. And you’d better bet that Russians love Instagram. They’re always on that thing.
The Magic Mechanics Value Gap
When you place a bet on a horse race, the odds are decided by bookkeepers. These bookkeepers give the best odds they can without going out of business.
If you want to make money at the racetrack, you need better info than the bookkeepers. If you think the odds for a horse to win are 3:1 and the bookkeepers are pricing it at 7:1, you’d better bet big on that every time. The caveat is that you need to know that the odds are 3:1. The way you know is with better information.
Better information usually comes in the form of data. But as most of you know, hockey is considered one of the most “random” sports. This means that it is most influenced by luck. And makes it hard to predict based on data analytics.
I’d like to draw your attention to overlooked data: Players’ biomechanics.
In my career as a pro, coach, and kinesiologist, I found that there is a large gap between what is considered “Proper technique” – and what NHLers actually do.
Shooting mechanics. Skating mechanics. Stickhandling mechanics. HUGE gaps between what coaches say – and what NHLers do.
If a scout evaluates mechanics based on the common advice – they’re literally evaluating players based on illusions.
If a scout looks at NHL Mechanics clearly and identifies this in a player when no one else does – it’s my hypothesis that they could outperform other scouts. That is if they think long-term, contrarian, and have the pull in their organization to take risks.
When I analyze mechanics, I separate them into two categories: Variants and Invariants. I call the invariants “Movement Principles”. The invariants never change, no matter the situation. The variants change based on the situation to allow the player to adapt. Some coaches look at the variants and mistakenly believe that they are invariants of movement. Then they preach those variant mechanics as if they are invariant. When these ideas circulate, we evaluate players based on the wrong criteria. This is trouble for some. But an opportunity for others.
If scouts see through this illusion, I believe they can identify value where others don’t.
Here are a couple gaps I commonly see.
- High Heel Kick. Everyone hates the high heel kick. But it’s not a problem. Watch speed skaters. Watch McDavid. The invariants to speed that I see include line of force production, heel pressure, proper arm swing, ribcage rotation, foot placement under the body (ankle flexion), and hip tilt and twist. Look for players who keep their heel on the ice while the leg extends. Their first few strides may be directed back, and as they gain speed, it goes more to the side. The heel kick is usually situation dependant. Not a determinant of speed.
2. Straight ahead speed in general. Approximately 5% of the game includes straight ahead striding. At younger levels, this proportion is different. So a player who may struggle with straight ahead speed at younger levels, may well do fine once he gets to higher levels with less straight ahead skating. What I look for instead is crossovers, single foot pushes, shuffles, hip scissor, anchors, valgus knee alignment when deking, corkscrews. These are indicators of the Magic Mechanics. These are transition tricks that allow players to change direction quickly with the puck. If you don’t see these on a player, but you see straight ahead speed, that player is likely less valuable than you think. Look for players who can create separation while on their outside edge.
3. Knock-kneed. Everyone hates valgus knee alignment. And yes, it places players at a higher risk for knee injury. But if you watch any “skilled” and “smooth skating” player, they show valgus knee alignment all over the place. At a younger age, players look skinny and weak – but as they add size, this will look more like agility. Look for players who are knock-kneed but who control the puck well.
4. Shooting Power. Shooting power usually increases with size and strength to a point. Then the differentiator is mechanics. If you’re seeing a strong player with a good shot and a weak player with a weak but quick release, they weak player will win in the end. As they gain size and strength, their technique will beat the strong player’s. Look for quick release and smooth mechanics.
Leveraging the Social Media Strategy I mentioned in the first part, you could quickly evaluate players’ mechanics on video. Save some highlight clips from @heybarber or my Instagram @train2point0 Then compare videos you see showing up on your hashtags with these highlights. I’ve asked my followers and subscribers to use the hashtags #magicmechanics and #patternsofthepros to identify these things on Instagram. When you watch, let your experienced and intuitive hockey mind takeover. If you notice similarities, you may want to pursue further.
Patterns of the Pros
One thing we discovered while researching NHL top producers is that roughly 70% of their goals from 2-4 patterns. The other 30% are fairly random. I’ll give you some examples:
- Ovechkin Scores almost 80% of his goals as
- A one-timer (when a righty passes to him)
- A catch and release when a lefty passes to him
- Kucherov scores about 70% of his goals as
- A royal road 1-timer
- A “Lazy one timer”
- The non-Cherry Pattern
- Stealth Footwork
- Kane Scores about 70% of his goals by
- Hiding in a blind spot
- Hiding his release in a stickhandle
- Creating and capitalizing on defensive turnovers
I don’t have a recommendation here. I point this out because scouts might be able to interpret this information better than me.
I didn’t analyze how Kane’s scoring patterns changed from junior to the NHL. But here are some questions you might ask:
- Is the idea of pattern recognition important? For example, if you see a player in Junior or college generate a goal scoring formula (A pattern that they use again and again to score) does that indicate they have good pattern recognition? Is that the meta-skill?
- Do some patterns work at all levels? If yes, and a player masters it at a young age, does that mean they will continue generating results with that pattern? McDavid’s drive wide pattern works at all levels. Crosby’s Dangle Formula works at all levels. If you identify NHL patterns in youth players, you may be able to predict their success at higher levels.
10x Your Success Rate As A Scout
We know that expertise occurs when we see data, generate hypotheses, test them, and learn from our findings. Developing “experience” takes time because we need to repeat this cycle again and again.
We can also agree that the best scouts are still not right 100% of the time. One reason might be “biases”.
One way to leverage technology is to get the crowd to curate your data. And you can do that with social media. Imagine thinking that a player is a bust, but people keep mentioning them in the scouting hashtag that you use…you might look twice. And you might pick up an opportunity that you would have overlooked otherwise based on your bias. Crowdsourcing this knowledge helps with that.
Complicated AI Algorithms often used crowdsourced information to make better decisions. You can leverate this “technology” yourself.
All this talk about transparency and crowdsourcing might be uncomfortable for some of you. You might wonder why you’d want this information to be public knowledge? Why would these kids share? Why would random people put videos online? And don’t you want to keep this info secret from your competitors?
The truth is that the internet won. This information is out there whether you use it or not. Everyone has access to the same information. But the winners accept this and leverage it. They process it better because they are ahead of the game.
You might wonder if some social media guru might be able to game the system. They probably could. But if I’m a team, and I’m deciding between a kid who has 24 followers and a kid who has 24,000 followers – ceteris paribus – I want to sell tickets. So I know who I’d choose.
You probably still need to attend games in person. But imagine if you knew, based on data gathered by the crowd, and then evaluated by you, which games to go to. Imagine if you had alerts sent to your phone anytime someone in your region popped up as a prospect. What would that do for your efficiency? What would that do for your accuracy? What would that do for your team?
It’s a new era. Those that are willing to embrace and leverage it will dominate. And I look forward to the show.