• Background Image

    News & Updates

    Darryl Belfry

June 1, 2016

The Formula for Elite Hockey Players

When Google started using their algorithm to predict your tastes, it was freaky. You’d be writing an email in your gmail account about a trip to Mexico, then not long after there would be an advertisement for trips to Mexico in your searches. Weird – Google is reading my email…

We might not like the idea of having our tastes reduced to an algorithm – a formula. But you also sort of enjoy it when you buy something that you “knew you wanted anyway” from Amazon. Or find another season to watch on Netflix.

The reality is that there are mathematical formulas which predict our tastes. They also predict our behaviours.

But it didn’t start that way.

Let’s look at the path that knowledge takes:

  • It starts as a mystery
  • Then it becomes a heuristic
  • Then it becomes an algorithm

The mystery is a bunch of information that has no connection. No seeming interlinkages. When someone starts to form conclusions about how the information is linked, it becomes a heuristic. A heuristic, or mental rule of thumb, organizes the information in a more meaningful way. This is where innovation happens. But the heuristic still has bias. So the next step is to systematically study the heuristic and make it more simple – reduce it to a mathematical formula.

Along the way, knowledge goes from exploratory to becoming exploited. What was learned in the heuristic stage gets exploited at the algorithm stage.

Not long ago, most of hockey was in the mystery stage. People attributed talent to inborn natural ability. They didn’t even try to do strength and conditioning. They would explain the success of certain players as literal mysteries.

Now we see some connections. Coaches are getting smarter. So are players. So are managers and parents. They’re starting to make connections in the patterns. There is still some bias. Bias is okay. It’s just part of the stage. And this is the stage is the heuristic stage.

I’d say that 90% of hockey is still in the heuristic stage. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just the way it is. Certain businesses like McDonald’s, Amazon, and Google are way past that. They’re exploiting the benefits of their algorithm. A sport like baseball is further along the continuum towards algorithm than hockey.

At the management level in the NHL, we see a shift towards algorithms. Managers figure out how to put together teams with advanced stats. They use algorithms to measure player value.

For a long time, I’ve been dissatisfied with my own role as a hockey development specialist. I have my own heuristics around what makes a good hockey player. I believe they’re more valid than other heuristics used by other coaches. For example, many coaches and scouts believe that big, smooth skating defensemen are the answer to any potential situation. When I stood on the bench and coached a team, I had a bias towards putting out my bigger defensemen. I’m not sure if that was because they were the best players, or that their size inclined me to think that way. Either way, I don’t know for sure. Neither does a scout. Neither does a manager. Neither does another coach. I used to think that the “bigger is better” heuristic was junk. But now I’m not sure.

As a hockey development specialist, my business survives on the perception that I’m making hockey players better. Once again, I truly believe that I’m doing the right things. I believe I’m giving my guys a bigger advantage than what other guys get with other coaches. But how do I know for sure? I can’t. You can’t. They can’t.

The earliest to the algorithm game in hockey was Anatoly Tarasov: the father of Russian hockey. He was using advanced stats before they were in vogue. The next to the algorithm game came Darryl Belfry. Whether he says this or not, he’s creating a formula for player success: an algorithm. He seems to measure many details, then sift through to find the ones that make the biggest difference. I’m not sure how his statistical process works, but it seems to work in the NHL. Good enough for me.

Many coaches, development specialists, and business people try to “measure things”. But the things they measure have close to no validity for predicting hockey success. “Oh ya? You measure shot speed to .00001km/h? Wow!!!”

For example: I was tagging a player the other day and on a shift he was -3 for Corsi. Except all three shots originated from the other side of the ice. The player I tagged was in position and had nothing to do with the shots against. He then retrieved a loose puck, and exited the zone. We tracked the shots against, the retrieval and the exit. So, which piece of data was most meaningful?

Obviously the loose puck recovery and exit showed what the player contributed on that shift. He wasn’t penalized for the shots against.

As a former pro and college player player, myself and my cofounder know which pieces of data to pay attention to. Then we use a couple simple, yet rigorous statistical methods to find the most important data points. To mathematically prove our heuristics. With that we’re building an algorithm. We’re building a formula for elite player development. And we’re getting data from all levels.

This is our drive to move from heuristic to algorithm. It greatly improves the rate of development of the average player. Very few in the space have the combined technical and mathematical expertise to do this. We count ourselves lucky to be working together on this.

Will this stymy innovation in hockey? Yes. An algorithm naturally does that. It trades the search for validity for reliable outcomes. With an algorithm, you can get reliable development. Killing innovation in hockey is not a good thing if you’re killing Darryl Belfry’s ability to innovate. We aren’t trying to do that. But killing “innovation” in hockey is a good thing if you’re killing an inexperienced coach in your association’s experiments in “chip & drive methodology” vs the “get it out methodology”. In that case, you want a formula. You want to drive out heuristics and amateurish experimentation. You want reliable development.

This may not be exciting to you. But it is to us. When you are paying for results from coaches, and coaches have nothing to be accountable to, you’re essentially paying for a mixture between hypnosis and snake oil. And that includes me and what I do. I just happen to be really good at hypnosis. And I have the best snake oil.

But now that all changes. If we have data to meaningfully show the improvements that a player makes, we have something to be accountable to. You can have that too.

-Jason

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.

 

February 8, 2016

How to Get a Stronger Core without Situps – & How Slippery Players are Slippery

How To Get A Stronger Core Without Doing Situps – And How Slippery Players Are Slippery from Jason Yee on Vimeo.

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.

December 15, 2015

How to Skate Like Jack Eichel – The Uncommon Instructions

 

We’ve all witnessed the fluidity, freaky speed, and graceful stride belonging to Mr. Jack Eichel. Is this preternatural skill? Could be. And can we stop drooling over it? I can’t. And players everywhere always ask me: how can I skate like Jack Eichel.

So then, here’s an even better question: can it be taught? Can everyday players learn to skate like Jack Eichel?

 

We can probably agree that many coaches are dogmatic. By this, I mean that they cling to one particular set of ideas pertaining to what is right and wrong. When presented with evidence that disconfirms their particular ideology, they enter into an interesting psychological state known as cognitive dissonance.

Isn’t it also true that most players, parents and fans are also this way? That is why I have started adding disclaimers in my articles forewarning readers of the dissonance they are about to experience through reading my uncommon (yet usually effective) perspective.

I’ll pause here for the people who are growing bored with my psychology babble to tell you that the magic trick you’re looking for is “weight shifts”. Ok get lost. Thanks for reading up until now. If you haven’t liked the article up until this point, you definitely won’t like the rest.

Ok, now back to the full explanation on how to skate like Jack Eichel:

Jack Eichel skates a bit weird, right? He seems to shuffle from side to side while gaining speed effortlessly. So wouldn’t it make sense that the advice to needed to skate like Jack Eichel is also a bit weird. You bet!

Here it is… (again)

Weight shifts.

What was our first question? Can Jack Eichel’s skating principles/style be taught?

Let’s first see if you can identify what I mean by weight shifts. See if you can catch them here.

When Jack Eichel skates, he has figured out how to use gravity and momentum to his advantage. He leverages these laws with his body mechanics of shifting his weight.

Hmm, who else preaches weight shifts/transfers?

Mr. Darryl Belfry.

,Can you catch where Darryl coaches weight shifts?

No? How about here?

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.22.33 AM

Or here?

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.23.52 AM

Hmm, it sounds like weight shifts/transfers can be taught, doesn’t it? Now, let’s talk about how and what to teach.

Example from Speed Skating

So let’s again look to speed skaters to see a clear example of the principles of gravity and momentum at play in a skating stride. Notice two things, 1) the circular motion of this skater’s right foot and 2) the diagonal pushing pattern.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.54 AM

Circular right foot: push out and back

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.05 AM

Circular right foot: pushes out and more back

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.14 AM

Circular right foot: gets to full extension

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.23 AM

Circular right foot: Continues circle, now coming in and forward

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.36 AM

Circular right foot: Continues circle, in and moving forward

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.32.44 AM

Circular right foot: planting on inside edge

You can see this live here:

https://youtu.be/SSmwi9IAtEA?t=1m19s

Circular leg motion:

Rather than a diagonal and linear movement straight out and straight back in, the leg travels in a circular motion out, then out and back, then up and in, then forward and in, then back out, then out and back. This uses momentum and smooth biomechanics of the leg so there’s never an acceleration or deceleration of the leg, it’s always moving, like in a running stride.

 

Diagonal Stepping:

The only way you can maintain this circular stepping is with diagonal pushes. Rather than skating in a straight line, you’ll notice that the speed skater here pushes their body in a slightly lateral direction on each push. This again keeps momentum up, and mimics the falling mechanics of a good runner.

You’ll see here that the skater pushes diagonally and shifts laterally to make his next step.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.51.29 AM

Momentum from his right leg push is propelling him laterally to his left.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.51.39 AM

The skater is about to plant on the outside edge. Yes, I said outside edge.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.51.48 AM

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.52.08 AM

Oh, and there he goes. Planting on the outside edge. You can see that he has shifted laterally, and is planted on the outside edge.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.52.16 AM

He continues using his momentum, “falling” with the energy of the stride”

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 9.53.05 AM

Now to correct the fall, he transfers to his inside edge and begins pushing WITH the momentum.

Back to Hockey

MMMM’kay. So that was a speed skating example. Of course, in hockey you rarely take more than 4-5 linear strides at a time in a game setting. Most of the time it is between 1-2 linear strides. So just how important is this? I dunno…? Fairly important. Watch Jack Eichel start behind an opposing player in a race for the puck…like WAYYY back, and pass him in ONE STRIDE! I’ve started the video at 1:30, and the ONE SINGLE STRIDE where he absolutely gasses his opponent, EFFORTLESSLY happens at 1:31. You may want to rewind and stop and go a bit to catch the diagonal movement, circular leg motion, and the stepping on the outside edge. It is that step that generates all the acceleration to beat his opponent.

Same clip, but here he is again:

Now there are also situations in which you simply can’t take full strides as a hockey player. What does Eichel do?

He still uses both principles. He’ll use a circular leg motion and a diagonal push. His push is almost imperceptible, but because he leverages the power of momentum and gravity, he’s able to INCREASE his speed.

Same clip again, but abbreviated strides. You’ll see the similarities between the above full strides and the abbreviated strides after watching a couple of times.

Here again, at 3:56 he’ll use extremely abbreviated steps. But the weight shift and diagonal circular steps are still detectable.

Hmmmmmmmmmm. What does that look like to you? Who has taught us that before? Oh, how about Belfry????

Check out Belfry teaching this subtle, yet dangerous manoeuvre to Tavares at 0:54.

 

Freaky eh?

 

What to do now?

Ok, so now you should probably go to you local power skating coach and ask them to teach you this stuff right?

Doubt it.

Show them this article, and watch their face drop. Then they might tell you something like Jack Eichel’s stick is too long or something. They might even tell you they can improve Mr. Eichel’s skating because he’s skating all wrong, and I’m all wrong. Maybe I am? Who knows. But this is a tell for cognitive dissonance, which you should at least be aware of.

 

[Note I love Coach Prusso’s stuff, I just don’t agree with him about the stick thing, which is something I saw he wrote an article on while researching this article]

What to actually do now…

At this point, I wish I could point you to a resource that explains how to skate like Eichel from start to finish. It doesn’t seem to be out there. Maybe I will create it one day. But until now, I’d suggest studying these videos, getting video of yourself skating, and comparing the two. I honestly doubt that any power skating coaches teach this stuff other than Belfry. If they do, it’s a mystery to me, and I’m fairly well researched when it comes to this stuff. (Please tell me if there is someone who does teach this stuff).

In writing this article, I was heavily consulted by a former professional figure skater who mentioned that this type of thinking is rare even in figure skating. Like in hockey, the understanding of how to skate is linear and simple. Simple rules like: don’t swing your arms side to side, have full extension, bend your knees.

The fact that simple and moderately useless rules exist to teach players nowadays is only of benefit to players like Eichel who somehow inherited his glorious stride…and YOU, who is willing to research how and what to do to develop yours.

I know I have presented more than enough contrarian evidence to invoke significant anger in many of you, and you won’t even know why. I am fine with that. If you’d like some more evidence (I know you don’t actually) of the circular motion and diagonal stepping, you can see it here, hereherehere, and here. But for those who are interested in an uncommon (and more effective) approach to skating, please let me know how this goes for you.

-Jason

If you think this video was over the top, you should see this one.

 

August 21, 2014

Hacking Tryouts – Experimenting with advanced statistics

Tryout camps are a time of tumultuous emotion, upset parents, scorned players, stressed out coaches, and political agendas. When I took part in the minor hockey and junior tryout camps, I was sort of blind to all the calamity around me. When I began attending tryout camps from the perspective of strength and conditioning/skills coach, I took on a whole new perspective. I sort of took on the perspective of the anxious parent who wants his kid (in my case, athletes I train), to do well. I also took the perspective of the coach trying to sort out who was deserving of a spot and who wasn’t. This journey was further animated by the (wide) range of perspectives of every different parent.

Most parents of players who were cut, thought that their kid was not given a fair shake. I sometimes agreed, and other times disagreed. Since parents were so biased in watching their kids play, I wondered, though, exactly how much of my bias was distorting my perception of players’ performance. The next logical question was: how much of the coach’s bias distorted his views? In order to answer this, I wanted to evaluate some sort of objective data that might track a player’s performance in the tryout camp and possibly predict their future performance on the team. So that’s what I did…

Read More

February 4, 2014

Patrick Kane and Darryl Belfry

Patrick Kane and Darryl Belfry

I’ve mentioned Darryl Belfry before on my blog, mostly because I look up to him in terms of his approach to coaching. A friend of mine recently sent me this article as a corollary to my “Coaching: Cause vs Effect” article. His comment was that the coach of the future will focus more on analytics than on outcome. I couldn’t agree more.