News & Updates
April 19, 2016
Many people are in conflict about the nature of talent. Some believe that talent is made. These people believe in the 10,000 hour rule – that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice leads to talent. Others believe it is innate – you are born with it. Still others believe that talent requires master coaching to be developed.
I’ll tell you right away where I stand.
I believe that talent is made. I also believe that your talent is largely determined by how you use critical periods in your development. So if you miss a window to develop body awareness as a youngster, you may be shit out of luck for being athletic. Then I believe that deliberate practice is a foundation, but not the only thing you can rely on. You must have a force guiding your deliberate practice. Otherwise, you may spend all that precious practice time on the wrong things, in the wrong way. Effort gets you in the door. Intelligent work keeps you there. I’ll suggest that you don’t need to be an intelligent person to do intelligent work. Sometimes a pathway to intelligent work lands in front of a player. Sometimes that pathway is a master coach, Sometimes it’s an ideal competitive environment.
A lack of fairness in this process stands out. A player may be willing to put 10,000 hours of deliberate practice into an activity – but they may not happen to be coached by a master coach. If they are lucky, they develop just fine. If they’re not, despite all their hard work, they may not develop at the same rate as others.
If anyone who is reading this knows me, you may recognize that I am 100% talking about my own plight. I do not think it was fair that I put in way more time than other players, but had less success. Knowing what I know now, I know it was because I spent some time learning the wrong things in the wrong way. I compounded this by practicing my poor patterns EVEN MORE to compensate for my lack of success. I’ve already talked about learning how to shoot the wrong way because a non-expert coach gave me a pointer on shooting that was wrong. Is it fair that an 8 year old screws himself over by practicing too much? I don’t think so.
I see this all the time with other players. It upsets me. It also drives my passion to help the player who wants to put in the time and effort. But as it stands, the player that wants to put in the time and effort does not always get rewarded. The best player gets rewarded regardless of their effort they put in. That’s the way it works.
But what if there was a system that provided master coaching to anyone, anywhere? A system that didn’t require you to roll the bones on your development. That if you wanted to put in the time, you were carefully guided down the right path.
By automating a skill development system using principles of operant conditioning, we could do that. The technology is right there. It just needs to be put together.
We’re putting it together.
April 19, 2016
Yesterday you may have noticed a number of problems with my solution. Today, we discuss mitigation strategies.
- Problem 1) Don’t you need a lot of coaches?
- Problem 2) Isn’t this a little subjective?
- Problem 3) How do you know if it works?
The solution to all three problems is automation. We discuss exactly how we are already creating that system. Let’s explore how automating this system solves the three problems that I brought up.
Problem 1) Don’t you need a lot of coaches?
If it’s an automated system, you just need a wide enough camera to capture all the players. Now, you no longer need one coach per player. You only need one system per game so long as each player has a wearable device to signal the positive reinforcement.
Problem 2) Isn’t this a little subjective?
Yes. Right now it is completely subjective. But so is coaching. Automating the system reduces that by nature. With automation, we can systematically split test what the best habits to reinforce are, what timing we should use, how many habits to reinforce, etc..
Problem 3) How do you know if it works?
We have tons of anecdotes suggesting that it works great. But as any good scientist knows, the plural of anecdotes is not data. We know we need data in order to fully validate the method. What we know for sure is that the players enjoy using the system, they believe it helps them, and they ask to use the system more. We also know that they don’t feel reliant on the system and report improved play after using the system even when they are not currently using the system.
Like I said, the plural of anecdotes is not data. By automating the system, it allows us to gather more data points to tweak our methodology and make a bigger difference.
We are creating the automated system. While this might not be available to players right now, the opportunity to get involved with what we’re doing…is.
If this interests you, you may want to learn more.
April 19, 2016
Today we solve two common problems for hockey coaches. We recognize that games and practices are far away from an optimal learning structure. So we seek to use Flow Theory and Operant Conditioning to come up with a way to move hockey games and practices towards an optimal learning structure.
I think I’ve come up with an elegant solution to this problem. Here is what I came up with.
Here is the problem:
- There’s a physical distance from coaches to players in game
- Psychological processing capabilities of a player is limited
- Ability to conceptually understand feedback and then apply it is limited depending on intelligence level and age
- Ability to process auditory feedback quickly and unconsciously is limited
- Distribution of coach and players (coach to player ratio) is low
- Time lapsed between skill and feedback is large
Here is what I cam up with for a solution:
Do a video analysis or game analysis on a player to determine 3-4 key areas that need to improve. Those key areas should be specific and measurable. They should also be attainable based on the players skill level. 3 or 4 things seems to be about the right amount based on some basic testing I did.
The key areas to improve should be “translatable” or “keystone” habits. This means that by fixing one habit, it increases the odds of success in a game. One example of a “keystone” or “translatable” habit is shoulder checks. By creating a shoulder check habit, many other good habits follow. For example, players “see” the ice better. They can also make plays quicker. I suggest that Darryl Belfry is the best in the world at determining which habits lead to the biggest differences.
Once you have determined the 3-4 key habits to improve, you get a remote vibration device. Also known as a remote vibration dog collar. This is where most of you start laughing uproariously. You can get these things at any pet store. (You’re not buying a shock collar – it is a vibration trainer). Then you attach the dog collar to a player’s leg.
You can then watch the practice or game and provide a vibration when the player executes one of the 3-4 key habits. The vibration serves as POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT – not a punishment. Players already know when they mess up. That’s why I don’t think that a punishment needs to be executed. I think that it is often less clear when a player has done something well. So by identifying it and reinforcing it, you help to make it clear to the player.
That’s it. That’s the solution.
This solves a number of things:
- Immediate feedback: check.
- Clear goals: check.
- Match challenge to skill: check.
- A little “out there”? Check that too
Here are some other solutions. I’ll explain why they don’t work as well as my solution.
I believe that Darryl Belfry is the best in the world at this. He has tons of experience and distills the key “translatable” habits that players should adopt to improve their odds of success. What makes him unique is his ability to isolate the “translatable” habits. Whereas other coaches might just huck stock advice at players after looking at video, Belfry seems to be very precise and data-driven in his approach. I don’t know these things for sure, but that’s the impression I get from watching his stuff.
The video analysis still leaves one loop open – live feedback. I believe part of Darryl’s process is to show video prior to an ice session, then practice it in a drill. This is very close to the optimal learning structure. However, it also takes a lot of time and energy to implement. Only the top players can get this type of video-instruction situation.
I suggest that video analysis to isolate “translatable” habits can be supplemented with real-time in practice and in-game feedback using the wearable device. This is the exact same as getting feedback from a coach in a 1on1 training session, but now you get it in the dynamic practice or game environment.
1on1 Coaching (On-Ice Habits)
I think that 1on1 coaching is great for skill training. It is the best ratio. But what happens when a player doesn’t need to learn skill – but needs to learn habits? You can run simulations in the 1on1 session, but without the dynamic real-game environment, the player simply can’t learn in the same way.
This methodology arose because I was kept trying to communicate in-game cues to a player in a 1on1 environment. It wasn’t working. So I innovated this new approach to signal to him his appropriate habits in a game situation.
1on1 Coach (Consultant)
Sometimes parents will get an experienced coach to come and watch their kid play. They’ll want feedback from that experienced coach. This is great. It’s another eye in the sky. But what is missing is…you guessed it! Immediate feedback. The coach may provide the best analysis in the world, but without immediate feedback, the player misses the opportunity for a neural connection to learn new habits.
Small Group Sessions
I love small group sessions. But during them I still need to divide my attention. I try to structure drills so that I can coach each athlete enough, but I still miss things. I’d guess that I miss 40-50% of teachable moments per player. If I were to try and reduce that number, the practice would move at a snails pace. I tradeoff pace of the practice for missing out on teachable moments. With my above solution, there is no tradeoff.
As I write this, I’m in the middle of coaching a team in a tournament. I leave the rink exhausted because I’m so mentally engaged while coaching. I’m trying to pay attention to the right things, instruct the players in the right way, catch them doing things right, and catch teachable moments. Meanwhile I’m running the lines, and paying attention to the game situations.
This is nothing special. This is what any coach does. My point is that as a coach, I’m trying to pay attention to many, many things. I simply cannot pay attention to each player and reinforce their every skill. I estimate that I provide teachable information to players 10-30% of the time that they need it.
As a coach, I found myself wishing I had backup. I wish I had someone there to catch every teachable moment for each player. Every mistake, every success was a teachable moment to players who were completely lost – who had not learned translatable habits. And I missed so many of them. If I had backup, each player would have gotten more feedback. More feedback means an optimal learning structure, which means accelerated learning.
No other coach is going broadcast that they’re not doing a good enough job. That they’re constantly failing to teach your kids. I’m a pretty good coach, and I’m telling you that I am definitely failing. Imagine how bad the average and below average coaches are doing… How much development and potential is being left on the table?
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