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April 19, 2016

What is open source coaching?

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.

If this isn’t crazy enough for you, you may want to learn more about what we’re doing here. If you want to get involved, start here.

April 19, 2016

The Problems You Pointed Out with the System

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

Solving the Coaching Problem (It’s worse than you think)

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.

Video Analysis

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.

Normal Coaching

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?

If you liked this article because it was different than most Drone Coach advice, and you’d like to get to work on becoming a Hockey Wizard, then click here to check out the benefits of becoming a Train 2.0 Member.

May 5, 2015

Principles before Plays – My Philosophy of Learning, Teaching, Coaching

Specific plays, memorization for studying, adopting fads, copying people… these all have one thing in common, and I think it holds most people back.
In Joshua Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning”, he describes making smaller and smaller circles. This means that he would rather learn one skill deeply to internalize its principles, rather than learn many skills just to show off. Bruce Lee also said, “I fear not the man who practived 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.” The idea behind these statements is that understanding principles trumps other types of learning.
My first foray into principles based learning was in my second semester of my second year at UBC. My first year, I followed my high school dogma that most of my fellow students also seemed to be following: memorize everything! The question always was: how am I supposed to know everything in this textbook for the final?? However the word “know” is most often thought of as “memorize”, so most students are really asking: how am I supposed to memorize everything in this textbook for the final. That semester, I took an economics course from a professor who was known to have very challenging exams. His exams were abstract, and he’d ask questions like, “Joe believes in the Sun God. Explain why Joe should not believe in the Sun God.” Then, he would provide a whole page for an answer. This proved very troublesome for a student who had memorized terms and graphs in order to study for the test. That was, until I went to look at an old midterm to see how it was marked. What I learned that day changed my approach to education and life.
The way that those questions were marked, was by checking to see if the student had written down three principles. The prof called them “Brainwave Principles”. That’s it. Three principles. No page long ramblings…three simple principles. A student only had to write three lines to get full marks on a ten mark question.
I then realized, that he had 12 “Brainwave Principles” in his textbook, and that you could answer every question by applying those 12 principles. If I truly understood those 12 principles, I understood the whole book. I tested this on my next exam in his class and aced it. Specifically, I knew what Principle applied to what question, and I was able to explain that in my answer.
My second brush with principles based learning was after listening to this Ted Talk with Elon Musk. In it, he talks about using First Principles based reasoning to come up with his ideas for business. He said that reasoning by analogy is just like copying everyone else. But when you copy everyone else, you follow their same thought pattern and therefore see limitations where they see limitations. By instead boiling everything down to first principles, Elon claims that he has been able to see the problem from a completely different perspective and is therefore able to examine if the perceived limitations of an idea are in fact true. This talk inspired me to dive deeper into the idea of First Principles reasoning.
Finally, after talking with a teammate, he mentioned how some of the really intelligent students in his program didn’t need to study for their courses, because they DERIVED their answers. They completely understand the principles behind the questions that a prof is asking, and therefore are able to piece together how to answer. In contrast, students who memorize answers to questions have trouble answering those questions if they are presented slightly differently than what they expect. They are less flexible, and their knowledge if more fragile. Meanwhile, a student who understands principles is flexible and robust because they can answer any iteration of a question testing their knowledge of a principles.
I then purposefully aimed to make my studying more principles based. The process looked something like this:
  • Understand the terminology so that I could understand the language of the concepts, the principles, and the problems
  • Aim to understand the overarching principles of the subject at hand
  • Aim to have a working knowledge of the concepts inherent within those principles
  • Enjoy my free time!
I applied this process to all of my courses. I was able to study much less…meanwhile, my marks actually went up. Why? Because I internalized the principles and it was easier for me to bring forth information in test taking scenarios. Because my knowledge represented a deep understanding of the principles on which the question was based, I could answer any type of question about that principle because all I had to do was apply it. On the other hand, memorized information was always more fragile because if I took in too much information, there was a chance it would be crowded. Also, without any sort of association, it’s fairly easy for your memorized information to go POOF in a test taking scenario. Principles based learning creates associations.
Strength & Conditioning
How this translates to strength and conditioning is just that…through translation. Coaches (myself included) often get bent out of shape over what exercise, modality, intensity, volume, etc etc, is best for training. In my eyes, it simply doesn’t matter. If we accept that the goal of strength and conditioning is to improve sport performance, then we’d also probably agree that sport performance can be improved when athletes can completely express themselves physically, in their sport, without hindrance of any kind. This usually translates to the idea of effectively and efficiently using the body in a coordinated and controlled manner to express force. To do so, the athlete should have internalized various movement principles. Things like: holding tension through the core while under load in order to stabilize the spine, mobile joints should be mobile and stabilizing joints should be stabile, be able to dissociate different parts of your body smoothly, etc.. Therefore, the idea that athletes “must train this way” is absolute bogus. A coach who is saying “all athletes should squat and lift heavy”, is really probably saying that “athletes should be able generate lot’s of force into the ground, and hold tension through their core to maintain a neutral spine while doing so.” I think that there are principles of movement that athletes must master in order to perform in their sport optimally. With those in mind, I aim to find the most effective way to train those movement principles. A mistake that coaches make is that they think “these drills are good for hockey”  because it looks sport specific and then end their thinking there. If those drills do not lead to an improvement in hockey performance through skill translation, those drills are a waste of time. But if those drills lead to some sort of translation (let’s say, increased ability to generate lateral force, and increased control and power in the hips in certain movements), then those drills are useful. The key is translation of athletic/movement principles, not mimicry of sport movement in non-sport contexts.
The strength coach should therefore understand what movement principles their athletes can develop that will translate to their performance. Then the strength coach should explore the best way to instruct and implement those principles into an athletes training program. Instructing exercises for the sake of instructing exercises, or improving numbers on lifts for the sake of improving numbers of lifts is absolutely useless unless an athlete can translate a skill or ability to generate force to their sport. So improving a squat does nothing for the athlete unless it now allows the athlete to learn to hold more tension in their core to keep themselves stable and put more force into the ground. If the athlete has increased their squat weight without actually improving in their sport, the squat was a waste of time for the athlete.
Hockey Coach
This also translates to being a hockey coach. When coaching, I’ve struggled with teaching plays to my players because I found that those plays would often fall apart when the players entered a game. If I’m particularly good at constructing clever players, and if the players are good enough to execute them, I may get a quick win. But as soon as another team figures out those plays, if all the players have previously relied upon was the plays, they are now standing on one leg. If instead, the players are taught principles, the players can adapt their play to the situation that meets them. Like a student who has internalized principles of a subject versus memorization, the player who has internalized important principles in hockey is more flexible and robust to any situation. This creates an empowered player and team who have the trust of the coach to solve their own problems.
The coach should aim to teach principles that will lead to the biggest effect in a team’s game. I do not think that chipping the puck out, or dumping and forechecking are good concepts to be preaching. Both of those concepts teach the principle of chasing. I think that passing and possession are principles that coaches should be aiming to teach. If I teach the principles of passing, support, and creating triangles, then if a specific play isn’t working, but the players are flexible in finding their solutions, the players are more adaptable, and the team is more likely to succeed.
Ideally a coach would ask themselves what principles they should teach in order to get a desired outcome. Not, what play or action should they teach. For example, a coach struggling with the breakout could either: a) tell their players not to make turnovers and to chip the puck out or b) teach their players principles of making plays to exit the zone. Similarly, a hockey player struggling with stick handling can: a) try to pick apart each aspect of their stick handling that they are deficient in and try to train each piece or b) figure out the principles of puck control on a deeper level – for example, posture and relaxation. A student should look at the principles and concepts taught my their teacher and aim to understand them completely rather than memorize every word in the book.
I’m aiming to improve my ability to use principles based learning, teaching and coaching. I hope this has inspired you to do the same.
P.S. If you liked this article because it was different than most Drone Coach advice, and you’d like to get to work on becoming a Hockey Wizard, then click here to check out the benefits of becoming a Train 2.0 Member.