• Background Image

    News & Updates

    get better faster

July 13, 2015

Quick Wins or Big Wins – A New Way of Looking at Your Development

Are you looking for big wins or quick wins? By wins, I mean improvements, or results due to a course of action. What do I mean by big or quick? I always talk about getting better at a faster rate than the next guy. So you might think I’m a proponent of “quick” wins. But I’m not. I think that massive improvement comes from string upon string of Big Wins, not short-lived quick wins.
I was introduced to this concept by Ramit Sethi of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich”. On his blog about personal finance, he encourages people to focus on Big Wins like:
  • Getting started saving, even if it’s a very small amount
  • Improve your credit score
  • Automating your finances
  • Choosing boring, time tested, low cost index funds
On the other hand, many other personal finance “gurus” recommend things like reducing your spending on lattes and making restrictive budgets. Ramit contends that these actions might be quick wins, but don’t actually contribute to much – and they’re hard to do. Improving your credit score (big win) can save you thousands over your lifetime and is easy to do – meanwhile tracking every penny you spend in a restrictive budget is mentally demanding and won’t last long.
This is similar to taking an 80/20 approach to getting results: find the most important things to do that give you the biggest results – focus your effort and attention there.
Coaches, parents, and players, with the best intentions of improving as fast as they can, make short sighted decisions –  quick wins. Examples of quick wins include:
  • Playing a short bench early in the season as a coach
  • Starting plyometric and olympic lifting before an athlete has basic movement skills mastered
  • Getting the best latest piece of equipment or gimmick rather than working on the foundations of skill
  • Early specialization in sports
It seems that the tendency to choose quick wins occurs because they seem sexier (no one thinks the basics are sexy) and because they often give the appearance of immediate results (and people just aren’t patient enough to wait for results to materialize in their own time).
On the other hand, big wins:
  • Do not always provide immediate improvements, but always lead to massive improvement on a slightly longer timeline. Overall, they lead to a faster improvement if you choose to look at a larger time scale.
  • Focus on the most important variables that contribute to disproportionate results. In the end, focusing on more attention on less variables leads to a larger and faster improvement.

Read More

May 8, 2015

What We’re Doing this Summer with Our Hockey Player and Why

Yesterday, I volunteered at my old high school to instruct some PE classes. Then I went to the gym and instructed our elite hockey players.

In both situations, I found myself explaining the same thing: cardio and interval training does not improve strength & power.

I found this odd. In my mind, it is ridiculously obvious that fatiguing your body is not the best way to increase speed and power. But obviously there is a disconnect between what I think is obvious, and what a younger generation thinks is obvious. This post is to address that disconnect:

The Path

In my mind, I have constructed a logic chain on how to develop strength and power that looks something like this:

  1. Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns. These proper movement patterns should:
  2. Teach the athlete to be able to handle more load with proper movement patterns
  3. Teach athletes to move loads at higher speed, maintaining correct movement patterns
  4. Develop an athlete’s capacity to handle high loads, at high speed, while under fatigue

I find that athletes and parents associate fatigue, intensity and volume with workout value. Here’s the thing: anybody who can yell at athletes is capable of making people fatigued and sweaty. And yes, there is a chance that said person is going to develop the strength and power of their athlete. If they are really lucky, they’ll inherit an athlete with great movement mechanics and great work capacity, and that athlete will respond to that training, and will then go on to do well in fitness testing…thus “proving” the efficacy of the fatiguing, high intensity workout. The huge problem with this (and I know, because I’ve previously been the coach to prescribe high-intensity, fatiguing workout after high-intensity, fatiguing workout), is that the players who don’t move well and are not able to adapt to the increased workload, well, they get left behind. They just “aren’t working as hard as those other guys”.

If we go back and look at point #1 (Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns), there is a new challenge for coaches with today’s athletes. I have noticed that there are less and less multi-sport, natural athletes. As a result, I’m inheriting athletes who might be excellent hockey players, but lack BASIC HUMAN MOVEMENT. The main problems I see with young hockey players is that their hips are so tight, that they have to use their knees and spine to generate their movement. Of course, the hips are capable of generating much more power than both the knee joint and the spinal muscles combined, so players with tight hips are leaving a lot of strength and power generation on the table if they are not correctly moving their hips. And simply put, we cannot train the athletes to properly move their hips if they do not have the mobility to do so.

Someone might tell me that by doing squats, deadlifts and lunges you can fix this problem. I’d agree, but only if the athletes are doing squats, deadlifts and lunges like they are meant to be performed by the body. Again, the tight hips often prevent squats, deadlifts and lunges from being performed properly, so the body learns and reinforces sloppy movement mechanics. Under fatigue, this problem gets even worse because the body is already not using its most effective and efficient muscles, so now those muscles start failing and recruiting even less effective and efficient muscles.

For me, I cannot, in any sort of good faith condone or prescribe consistent workouts that do not first address movement quality. I believe it would be negligent of me to do so. Of course, I believe that athletes should still be placed in challenging and fatiguing situations to prepare them for camps. But this type of work should be done with conscious attention towards minimizing risk, and it does not need to be done all the time. Furthermore, I of course believe in developing a high aerobic and anaerobic capacity in our athletes, but there are more effective ways of improving that specific capacity than running them into the ground every day.

Measurement and Value

Like I mentioned, fatigue is often associated with the value of a workout. Let’s please change that.

I can understand that void of any other metric, valuing a workout by the amount of fatigue it generates is a very reasonable thing to do. And I can also imagine that if a trainer is not actually wanting to put a lot of thought into how their workouts make on ice contributions, then they’ll want you to think that fatigue is a useful value measuring stick.

What metrics actually matter? Some will say that a strength and conditioning coach should only worry about the fitness variables they can effect. So they will tell you they have improved the athlete if they improved their squat weight, their bench weight, their clean weight, their broad jump, and some measure of aerobic capacity. Others use those metrics as well, but also consider their role to be to help the athlete in their sport. They may take a bit of emphasis off of the bench, squat, clean, jump and VO2, and spend a bit more time and effort trying to translate or transfer the skills to the sport.

I fall into the second camp. But, not radically so. I believe that improvements in athletic movement principles (needed for hockey) will manifest themselves in improved lifts, jumps, sprints, and aerobic tests. Therefore, those tests may provide an indicator as a proxy for improved sport performance. The reason that I fall into the second camp is because I am in (what I think is) a fairly unique position of having almost amassed my 10,000 coaching hours (I’ve been coaching for about the last 9 years consistently) and also having amassed my 10,000 hockey playing hours, meanwhile I’ve studied Kinesiology. Because I am also continuing to play while doing all this, I’d say that I am very in touch with the process of what it takes to get better. I’ve made committed almost every mistake by enthusiastically following every person who has a claim that they can help improve my game. I have ruthlessly thrown aside any and every method that does not provide immediate and lasting results. I’m also 100% in touch with the demands of the athlete, and the psychology of the athlete. So I remember the days when I crushed a fatiguing workout, went to the farm to work and pushed a lawn mower and carried a weed whacker and didn’t have time or energy to develop my skills. I remember dropping 400lbs on my back in a back squat with incorrectly adjusted spot arms and no spotter. I remember lunging around my backyard with a friend (who never worked out with me again), for 2 hours, and then not being able to walk for a week (my mom literally carried me up and down the stairs…embarrassing for a 12 year old).

After almost 20 years of hockey, I’ve realized that the most valuable physical skills I learned were actually very different than what a strength & conditioning coach might suggest. They are:

  • Not to tense up in pressure situations.
  • Not to “try” too hard. Give 100% intensity instead.
  • Not to tense muscles that are not immediately involved in performing the skill.
  • Generate and receive contact through the core.
  • Learn to generate elasticity through the core on shots and passes.
  • Don’t bend your knees too much, use your hips to generate power.
  • Under fatigue, stay calm, breathe deeply.
  • Correct posture (shoulders, pelvic alignment, ribcage alignment) matters as much to physical performance as it does to psychological performance.

All of these things are movement quality related. They were sprinkled throughout my career, with many of them only coming into crystal clear focus very recently. Disappointing, then, that all the fatiguing workouts I did never taught me those things. Some I learned when I used to play the violin, others I learned through martial arts, golf and soccer. A few teammates have given me pointers on others. The rest I learned by researching information  from the best minds in sports and strength and conditioning.

Of course, I’m now also blessed with great aerobic capacity, strength and power. While these occurred as a result of my training, I still believe that my training was NOT the most efficient way of improving all of those things. For example, I learned that I didn’t actually need to lift as much volume as I thought I did. I also wish I had adopted a different running style when I was back racing, as that would have made running so much more enjoyable. In any case, all of this was a valuable learning experience because I can now do a lot more with a lot less time and energy.

So what are we doing this summer? We are trying to boil down 20 years of my enthusiastic pursuit of excellence through training…into one summer. We are drawing the straightest line through the sand. I’m hoping it can help everyone we are training get better faster.

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.

April 18, 2015

Hacking Movement Quality, Expert Performers and What You Need to Know to Move Like Them

One pattern that has stood out to me recently is related to the idea of movement quality. The term gets thrown around a lot, but how exactly is “movement quality” exploited by expert performers? How can a skills coach teach better skills? How can a strength and conditioning coach have gym “movement quality” transfer to performance?

One answer is: teach the “proximal to distal gradient”

WTF is the “proximal to distal gradient”?

Read More

March 12, 2015

Sequencing: Your Hack for Rapid Improvement

This article is about how I got 400% better at golf in 2 hours.

It’s also about “sequencing”, and why sequencing can hack your learning rate.

In previous articles, I’ve already outlined that the most important variable for success is your RATE of improvement, and that the best coaches give feedback on HOW, not just WHAT. Sequencing is a powerful tool to increase your RATE of your improvement, and also for coaches who are concerned with coaching the “how”.

Read More

August 3, 2014

Hacking the 10,000 Rule

10,000 hour rule is more of a relationship than a rule. What was found by Anders Ericsson, and since exemplified in many popular books like “Outliers”, “The Talent Code”, “Bounce”, etc., is that for the most part, musicians who accumulate more deliberate practice than others tend to be better than those with less practice. The “rule” that was found, was that most “experts” have accumulated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

But this is a correlation, not a law. The rule is not aptly named. It should be called the 10,000 hour relationship.

In Steven Kotler’s brand new book, “The Rise of Superman”, he claims that action and adventure athletes have found a way to dramatically shorten the amount of practice necessary to reach “expert status”.

The path to mastery can be significantly shortened by accessing a specific psychological state. This psychological state is known as “flow”.

Why this information is important is because flow is accessible by pulling certain levers. Certain environmental, situational and and psychological factors can help trigger access to “flow states”. When athletes enter into a flow state, they experience optimal performance, a loss of sense of self, a loss of time, fearlessness, and the ability to generate creative and original solutions to problems.

If an athlete can more often enter flow states, they can progress their skill level and effectiveness at a much faster rate. In a day and age where everyone is maxing out their schedules with practice time, how you are using your practice time is what will set you apart. Can you Get Better Faster? Can you make your development non-linear – can you get multiple levels of output for singular inputs?

It is my guess that athletes who can easily enter into flow states are probable the best athletes on your team. It is important to note, that most coaches, parents and most aspects of society DO NOT promote flow states in athletes. So athletes who defy these forces in some way are the ones who mysteriously beat the 10,000 hour rule and rise above everyone else. Action and adventure athletes are able to beat those forces because what they do DEMANDS that they are in flow…or else they die! What, in our day and age, specifically precludes athletes from getting into flow? Here are a few common ones:

  • The distracted present. In order to be in flow, you need to be 100% involved in the moment. You actually experience a narrowing of attention, but only on the relevant stimuli. So if you’re trying to score a goal, the only thing going through your head is locating where some mesh is and how you’re going to get the puck there. If you face any distractions, like what the coach might think or what your parents will say if you miss. What specifically precludes athletes from getting into flow in their day to day life is the myriad of distractions that surround us. So if they are always answering every single thing on their phone, it is hard for them to get into flow. In our workouts and training, we do our best to remove any and all distractions to counter this.
  • Too many practices and games. If every little thing is structured in a child’s life, and they have no novelty or autonomy. Adding play has the benefit of releasing neurotransmitters that encourage athletes to enter into flow. We add unstructured free time and also provide our athletes with the autonomy to generate their own games and rules.
  • Parents and coaches. When coaches and parents give too much (even well-intentioned) feedback, athletes need to think too much. Thinking prevents the flow state, because the flow state has no conscious thought. I see this all the time with our athletes: if I go overboard giving feedback cues, athletes think too much and then crumble. We use a technique known as bandwidth feedback to ensure that our athletes get the correct amount of feedback to improve their performance, but not so much that they can’t get into flow states.

You might be wondering what specific levers we need to pull to get athletes into flow states. The first thing is to not pull the levers that keep you out of flow states! If you want to learn more about getting into flow states, I suggest reading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, or “The Rise of Superman” by Steven Kotler. Also, stay tuned for more articles on flow.

As a bit of a teaser, the things that get you into flow are:

  • Clear goals
  • Direct and immediate feedback
  • Correct Skill/Challenge Ratio

So to summarize, let’s look at how our knowledge of talent development has progressed over time:

  • Early (1.0): We thought that talent was innate, something that you were born with or not
  • Recently (2.0): Talent can be grown…with 10,000 hours of deliberate, structured, systematic practice (If you thought this, then good on you, you’re still a part of the new wave movement way of thinking about talent development)
  • Latest (3.0 – Cutting edge of the new wave): Talent can be grown, at an exponentially accelerating rate, as an athlete develops their ability to enter into flow states. Athletes who spend more time in flow can accelerate their performance beyond those who don’t spend as much time in flow.

Hopefully this article has enticed you to spend time thinking about flow states and maybe get into some heavier reading. Good luck flowing!

June 14, 2014

Get Better Faster – Hacking Hockey with Tim Ferris

Lifehacking: A tool or technique that makes some aspects of one’s life easier or more efficient. (from urbandictionary.com)

You’ve all heard of life hacking, or bio hacking. Is it possible to hack hockey? I think so. Drawing from contemporary wisdom of Tim Ferris and his book “The 4-Hour Chef”, I’ll explain a few techniques to hack hockey.

Read More

January 14, 2014

Get Better Faster

Hockey has gotten more and more competitive. Players are getting more skilled, stronger, faster. Here are my ideas on this phenomenon.