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June 15, 2018

Your Coach’s Cognitive Bias For Skating

I believe that coaches have a cognitive bias for skating. The smart parents and players exploit this.

I separate this blog into my experience, cognitive psychology, and mind reading. I let you know when I do because each has different levels of reliability.

In my experience, the only two things that matter are skating and points. You can get to a level when one runs out. And then you usually stay there.

For example, I am considered a strong skater. In midget and junior b, I was a very offensive defenseman and had lots of points. In Junior A my points, I fought my way into the lineup as a shutdown defenseman. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed there. My points started decreasing. But since my skating still looked strong, I was given the chance at the CIS level. A level normally reserved for Major Junior players. Despite my poor point production (we had lot’s of team success, setting a record in the league for goals against and my plus-minus was through the roof) I was afforded the chance at a higher level. I attribute that to my skating.

But then the points ran dry because I repeated the same pattern. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed in a role that I was comfortable with. Again, highest plus-minus on the team, but not enough points to get a contract in the pro league I wanted.

The opposite is often true. Players might still get points – but when their skating runs out, they stop moving up.

Cognitive Biases

The reason I focus in on skating is that my shot wasn’t particularly good, nor was my stickhandling. Stickhandling doesn’t seem to have the same effect on coaches that skating does. Neither does the shot (unless the shot goes in – so that implies points). Here, I discuss why that might be using the framework of cognitive biases and persuasion.

The Halo Effect

When you have one attractive attribute, we have a tendency to rate that person’s attributes in every other area to be higher as well. Good looking people enjoy these advantages. They are rated higher in intelligence, effectiveness, etc. than others of lesser attractiveness. (On another note, most NHLers are pretty good looking, no? Hmmm…)

A player with one attractive attribute might cause coaches to evaluate their other attributes to be higher.

Visual Persuasion

The most effective form of persuasion is visual persuasion. This explains the power behind images, visual graphs, and data visualization.

Skating is the most visual element of a player’s game. It is SEEN most easily by coaches. But also fans, parents, other players. It is risky for a coach to pick someone who LOOKS sloppy. Regardless of point production.

Putting this together: A player’s skating is the most VISIBLE element of their play. Stickhandling doesn’t show up in a game unless the player is a good enough skater to actually use their hands. And shots happen infrequently. So if skating is the most visual element, and it looks really good – it might trigger the halo effect for coaches.


Magic Mechanics Explanation – Why The Halo Effect Usually Works To Predict Success

Remember when I said that I am a strong skater? I was. I literally had my teammates tell me that they loved to watch me do open hip pivots when retrieving the puck.

The only problem was that I was a “strong skater” by typical Power Skating Standards. I possessed about zero of the Magic Mechanics for lateral movement and deception.

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he notes that heuristics (mental shortcuts) are used by experts for making quick decisions. Through repetition, you notice a pattern, then create a mental rule. You follow that rule to make decisions. It’s not always 100% correct – but it often is.

So the Halo Effect with skating might be a smart heuristic for coaches: If they’re seeing Magic Mechanic skating – not Power Skating.

With Magic Mechanics Skating, your movement allows you to be deceptive, but also hard to knock off the puck, with a great shot, and good hands. It even indicates a level of mental presence. Because it all blends together. And the base is skating. Specifically,

Typical Power Skating is invented from…I’m not sure what. And it works so against the physics and the natural mechanics of the body that it “looks right” – but doesn’t form the base of your movement. This was me to a tee. I took all the power skating camps, and most coaches thought I “looked good” at skating. But my Power Skating held my hands, lateral movement, and shooting back.

So the Halo Effect usually works when smooth skating is Magic Mechanics skating. Not when it’s Power Skating. Because even though it looks right, the Power Skater won’t be able to sustain their point production. Because the rest of their skills are not up to standard.

Taking Advantage Of This Bias

As a coach, it’s advantageous to differentiate between the two. You can avoid false positives if you identify Magic Mechanics skating vs Power Skating players.

Players and parents can take advantage of the Halo Effect by working on their skating so that it looks right. They can take advantage of the asymmetric payoff if they work on their Downhill Skating because it has downstream effects on other skills as well as the bias of the coach.

Thanks for reading today.


March 27, 2018

Dangle By Design Part 2: The SEEE Formula and Reading The Stick

This is Part 2 of the Dangle by Design Series. Please read Part 1 to get caught up on what’s going on before you read part 2.

Today, we deconstruct the Dangle. And then we talk about exploiting the momentum of the stick.

The Four Parts of the SEEE Dangle Formula include:

  1. The Setup
  2. The Entry
  3. Exploit Opportunity
  4. Escape

The Setup


This is your route towards your dangle victim. Straight on? Crossovers? Hip Scissors? Shuffle Steps? Could be anything. (Hint: Straight on does not work too good.)

The Entry

Here you engage your dangle victim. In most dangles, this involves a present to bait tactic (Read Part 1 to learn what Present to Bait means). How and where you present to bait matters a lot here. And it follows a pattern for successful dangles. You MUST be a master of the 5 Transition Tricks in order to properly enter on your dangle victim.

A successful entry looks like:

  • You dictated your DV’s stick momentum and/or their body momentum
  • You didn’t get poke checked

Exploit Opportunity

If the successful entry conditions are met (dictate momentum and no poke check), then you exploit your DV’s change in momentum to create space for yourself. You must have hand-foot rhythm and you must master the 5 Transition Tricks to fully exploit the opportunity that you created.


After you successfully exploit the opportunity you created, you need to protect the puck through hip wall, and have at least enough speed to maintain that gap you created. This means having good puck protection mechanics, and good transition skills.

Entry & Exploitation: The Stick

The first domino to fall is Stick Momentum Exploitation. We talk about turning heels and changing body momentum. But I believe that the most important opportunity to exploit is stick momentum.

When mastered, you should at least be able to avoid poke checks. You might not be able to get around people (escape) – but you won’t get poke checked.

There are three ways to exploit the momentum of the stick:

  1. Exploiting the reach
  2. Exploiting the swing
  3. Combination of both (these are the ones when the jock/jill strap really hangs off the rafters)

Entering To Exploit Stick Momentum

Upon engaging your DV, the puck needs to be in a place to bait the DV into swinging or reaching. Too far: no swing or reach. To close: poke check. Just right: swing and/or reach.

Exploiting Stick Momentum

If you entered with the right positioning, then you know a swing or reach is coming. As that swing/reach comes, the puck needs to be in a position on your blade to exploit that momentum. If your DV swings from right to left, you’d better be ready to move the puck left to right – into the open space. If your DV swings left to right, you’d better be ready to move right to left.

Mechanics: Kane Stickhandling System

In the Kane Stickhandling system, we teach players to handle the puck on the heel, then use their wrists to roll the puck down the toe for movement. During your entry, the puck needs to be handled at the heel for two reasons. 1: The puck sometimes needs to be pushed/rolled forward before going left-right and 2: The roll from heel to toe is a smaller mechanic to move the puck than moving your whole arm (maximization through minimization).

If you’d like to see the Kane Stickhandling System, it is available here.

The Foundation Of Dangles

My hypothesis is that stick momentum exploitation is the foundation of the dangle. Many of you know that I look for movement variants and movement invariants. What things always stay the same? And what things change based on the situation? I call those invariants “Movement Principles”.

I honed in on the Stick Momentum Exploitation as an invariant. In situations where stick momentum exploitation does not occur – I’d suggest that that is not a dangle (deke). Instead, I’d suggest that that is a better angle, better speed scenario. And that does not constitute a dangle.

Bigger Dangles

I’d suggest that the setup and escape influence the size of the dangle. They are the variables. But stick exploitation is invariant: the principle behind the dangle. In my next posts, I evaluate my ideas after testing in practice and discuss using the setup and escape to increase the “size” of your dangles.

Don’t Create > Document

The reason I’m able to generate so much content so fast is because I don’t create. I document. You get to see this process unfold in real time. And you are involved in the process with your feedback, observations, and suggestions.

Are my ideas supported by video evidence? Do they work in real life? These are the things I want to know. Please send me an email because I’d love to hear what you think: [email protected]


P.S. If you’d like to join the conversation with the members, you can do that here, because we take these concepts to another level.

March 21, 2018

How To Flex Your Stick (And How To Shoot Harder)

It’s a little-known secret that the puck flexes the stick.

Yes, the ice also flexes your stick. But with today’s sticks, almost every shot, pass, and stickhandle results in stick flex.

When you understand this key distinction – you can actually leverage your stick to its full potential. And then you can stop wasting your effort on power bleeding mechanics (like leaning on your stick).

It helps to know the situations where the puck flexes the stick. And distinguish when the ice also flexes the stick.

The saucer pass and shot share similar mechanics. In particular, the puck follows the same blade rhythm: It moves heel to toe.

To dial-up power, today’s shooter can do three things:

  • Move the pivot point forward
  • Generate more rotation
  • Use ice to create stick flex

Moving the pivot point forward means that the stick’s force producing part of the lever has a large range of motion. Thus can generate more power (since power = force x velocity and velocity = speed/distance). You can see how the pivot point is closer to the body with a saucer pass, but with a shot, the pivot point gets moved further ahead of the body along for the pulling hand to pull for a longer distance.

I mention that a shot is not a translation. Like a two foot broad jump. People who focus on weight transfer as THE variable get this part wrong. Instead, the shot is a rotation skill. Like tennis, baseball, and javelin. Adding rotation by arranging your feet so that your hips turn adds more power. With a rotation, think of it as increasing the length of your lever. It also increases the force end of this equation because force production that starts near your centre (core) compounds as it travels down the kinetic chain.

Here we see MacKinnon using almost no rotation. Just a push – pull lever motion. In comparison, notice how much rotation Laine gets.

The ice does generate stick flex. It’s sort of like pushing a bendy 4.5 ft bamboo rod through a 4 ft window. You push the rod forward. (Credit to Jeremy Rupke for this analogy). Player mess this up when they think they need to push down into the ice. The real way that you increase the flex of the stick is to make the window smaller by tipping your hips and tilting your shoulders. I understand why people call this “leaning on your stick” because that’s what it looks like. This is an illusion similar to the “Toe Off illusion.”

Understand that the there is a Power – Quickness Tradeoff. Going back to the MacKinnon vs Laine comparisons, you see that MacKinnon releases the puck quicker but with less power. Vice versa for Laine. But you do see that MacKinnon still gets stick flex! That’s just the nature of sticks today.

It helps to understand this distinction so that you avoid doing something that bleeds your power, balance, and quick release.

Some say that every skill you add to your talent stack roughly doubles your odds of success. Hockey is about being adaptable to situations. And the more tools you have, the more situations you dominate.

Learn how to dial your power up and down while maintaining the mechanics of shooting Wizards. You do this by understanding the mechanical principles that lead to more shot power.

If you’d like to learn this step-by-step, I’ll tell you how I structure this in the Shooting Mastery Course and with my coaching clients:

  1. We start by feeling the movement principles of the Hip Engine, the Inner Spring, and Tipped hips, and the Kinetic Chain. This is without a puck and stick. It’s just about feeeeeeeeel.
  2. Then we add the stick back in and start to play with the idea of leverage. How to position your body, your feet, your hands for maximum stick leverage.
  3. Then we add the puck back in – and cover basic drills that incorporate the movement principles. We keep the demands low so that the player focuses on the feeling.
  4. As the player hones in on the right feeling of the movement principles, we add more game specific footwork and movement patterns.
  5. Then we create the NeuroLinks so that players identify when to use their new mechanics to exploit opportunities and get results.

That’s how I approach it. I’d love to hear how this goes for you. And if you’d like some help implementing this plan, or you’d like to take advantage of the refinements I’ve made over my years of coaching, playing, and research, you can register for the Shooting Mastery Course here. Either way, please reach out to me and tell me what you think of this article: [email protected]



January 28, 2018

The Perfect Skill System

The Perfect Skill System is a system that combines science, technology and psychology to help players master skills at the fastest possible rate.

Players who master the Magic Mechanics of hockey the fastest have the best chance of winning.

Today, most coaches use a combination of guesswork and voodoo magic to teach hockey players. Or at least that’s how it appears. However, they use words like “experience”, “common sense”, and “resume” as code words – because it sounds better that way. Very few coaches use an “evidence-based” approach.

Many players and parents seem to be okay with guesswork and voodoo magic coaching philosophies.

But at Train 2.0, we call this Drone Coaching.

Some players and parents do not find this type of coaching acceptable. If they invest in coaching, they expect it to produce results. They expect the instructions to be simple, trusted, and to provide measurable progress.

For those players who want simple and trusted instructions with measurable progress, I introduce the “Perfect Skill System.”

When players use the Perfect Skill System they experience NHL level learning. They engage the most powerful learning engines in their brain. And they turn on their Feel Your Body Learning circuits.


How? (This is the science part)

Through instant video feedback compared to NHL players.

How do we achieve this? (This is the technology part).

We place two iPads side by side. One playing an NHL player’s skill. Another with a time delayed video of the player.

Why does it work so well? (That is the neuro-psychology part)

When the player compares their video to the NHLer’s video (let’s say Auston Matthews’ wrist shot), circuits in the brain automatically compare and contrast the movement. The player immediately and unconsciously makes adjustments to their shooting technique to more closely mirror Matthews.

It is an exciting time. Technology opens up new possibilities.

Here’s the system in action:

It includes:
  • 2 Tripods
  • 2 iPad Mounts
  • 2 iPads
  • 1 Video Delay App
  • 1 Video Looping App
  • Clips of NHLers performing skills

If players want to learn a skill in record time – they can.

If a parent wants to save money on coaching – they can.

If coaches want to dramatically increase the skill of their players – they can.

The system is simple and flexible.

Notes On Saving Money:

Idea #1: Rather than use iPads, you could use an Android Tablet or phone in the place of one iPad (the looping video one)

Idea #2: Rather than use the second iPad you could just use a tablet for the video replay (you still need at least one tablet)

Idea #3: You can get used tripods for $20 each – but the tablet mounts generally cost $40-50 each (Total investment could be as low as $300 depending on what you already own)

Idea #4: Parents often feel pressured to spend thousands of thousands of dollars on “elite” teams with great “development” programs. The truth is that most “elite” teams with great “development” are designed to make money (from parents). For a few hundred dollars, parents and players can use a Skill Development System that beats any development on these “elite” teams. (Unless those teams use the Perfect Skill System). Players love using the Perfect Skill System! And they see noticeable results much faster than any other system I’ve seen.


Some of you might wonder if the Perfect Skill System stops at two iPads, two tripods and a couple apps. It doesn’t. I envision this system evolving to include a drone that tracks players movement while the player wears a heads up display in their helmet. And the drone broadcasts the time delayed video replay of the players movement to the heads up display. The time delayed video is side-by-side with the NHLer’s clip. I imagine that each player on the team would wear one of these heads up units and would be able to review their rep during every drill while waiting in line. Perhaps even after a shift in a game.

Players show a huge improvement every time I show them video of their play and compare it to NHLers. That’s what gave me the idea for this version of the Perfect Skill System. Now with the increased frequency, players make adjustments with surprising speed. Getting increased visual feedback with the Drone – Heads Up Display version takes the system to the next level.

The Golden Age:

Hockey is moving out of the dark age. The shift has already occurred. You might be able to feel it.

The smart players, parents, and coaches are getting too good. They’re starting to win. And it’s just the beginning.

Poor performing coaches and systems won’t survive much longer. They are being weeded out.

You are starting to see a change in how players and parents evaluate coaches and coaching systems. Evolutions in technology, psychology and science makes this possible. And the players, parents, and coaches who are aware of changes in these forces will get caught on the upswing.

“You are entering the Golden Age. It starts now.”


January 28, 2018

How to Become a Feel-Based Learner – The “Feel Your Body Learning” System

Darryl Belfry is the leading skill coach in hockey right now.

Listening to an interview with Belfry, he remarked that the top 6 players on NHL teams are something called “Feel Based Learners”. This means that they would ask how a movement should feel. The bottom 6 asked to be told what to do visually.

So it made sense to research this idea. Then to develop guidelines for players to follow.

At Train 2.0, we call this style of learning the Feel Your Body Learning System.

We turned up a couple interesting concepts that support the Feel Your Body Learning System.


Idea #1: Conscious vs Unconscious Learning – How it relates to feel-based learning

The research says that unconscious learning is better than conscious learning for three reasons:

  1. Unconscious learning leads to better performance under pressure
  2. Unconscious learning leads to better performance over time
  3. Unconscious learning leads to improvements in related tasks

(Note: When I say conscious vs unconscious learning, I’m actually talking about extrinsic vs intrinsic motor learning – that’s what it is called in the literature. I am simplying for clarity)

When a player learns through feel, they MUST learn unconsciously. When they get the Magic Mechanics correct, they immediately FEEL it. And they cannot unfeel it. I’ve tried using words to explain the “feeling” – but until you can get an athlete to actually use the Magic Mechanics they just won’t understand.

Since the “feeling” doesn’t seem to be something a player can think their way towards, I’d suggest that it is an unconscious learning.


Idea #2: Learn The Way Your Perform

(Specificity of learning hypothesis)

Success in hockey relies on a player using the correct body movements. We call these the Magic Mechanics.

When a player uses the Magic Mechanics they are more balance, in control, and effortless. This provides them with the ability to pick up more information with their eyes. And it also provides them with more options to use.

When a player is playing, they do not have time to internalize verbal commands. They have to “think with their body”. Hockey players have two main sources of data: visual and kinaesthetic. Visual data is used to make decisions. Kinaesthetic data is used to monitor body position – so for skill execution.

When a player uses verbal data to determine their movements (skills) – they may be able to make adjustments in a controlled practice setting. But they cannot use that data in a game setting. It’s like a pilot who only wants to use their windows to get around, but it’s foggy. It’s smart to use the flight instruments because you don’t have any other sources of information about where the plane is. But the pilot still wants to look out the window.

When a player uses kinaesthetic (feel based) data to determine their movements – they always have their preferred data source on hand. Like a pilot who loves using their instruments to fly the plane. Even when it’s foggy, the pilot can land the plane no problem.

Players who Feel Their Body Learning learn the way they perform. So this leads them to have stable performance in both games and skill development sessions. And they always have their preferred data source on hand – their FEELING.


Idea #3: Drone Coach Resistance

Players who use Feel Your Body Learning naturally have a special gift. The gift is that when they Feel Their Body doing the Magic Mechanics – it feels SO GOOD they never want to do anything ever again. Take for example shooting. Great shooters with the Magic Mechanics often do the opposite of what many coaches teach. The coach might seek to “coach” the players by giving them helpful advice. But this helpful advice is the exact opposite of what the coach should be saying.

Luckily for the player who Feels Their Body Learning, they’ve felt the Magic Mechanics of the shot. And they can never unfeeling that feeling. And it feels so good that nothing else feels natural.

So they nod politely and accept the coaches advice. But shortly after, they go back to shooting the way they always did. Because it felt right.


How To Use The Feel Your Body Learning System

Step 1: Choose a simple movement you want to learn. Let’s say a slapshot.

Step 2: Take a slap shot. Pay attention to how it feels. Where did you feel tension? Where did you feel free? Where did you feel blocked? Where did you feel powerful?

Step 3: Take another slapshot. But this time, completely differently. Ask yourself the same questions about tension, freedom, blockages, and power.

Step 4: Take another slap shot. Again different. Ask yourself the questions again.

Step 5: Now start optimizing. Don’t think about how to shoot. Forget everything you’ve been told. Just shoot. And FEEL it. Really FEEL it.

Step 6: Feel your body learning automatically. Keep asking yourself the questions: freedom, tension, blockages, power. Don’t think about how your body “should” move. Observe it as it moves.

Step 7: Treat each shot as an experiment. How good can you make each shot feel?

Step 8: Once your shot is feeling really good, repeat again and again. Make sure each shot feels great!

Step 9: When it feels right, stop shooting for the day. That’s probably what your body can learn today. Now give it a rest to incorporate all the changes it made.


Bonus steps:

The Straight Path and the Perfect Skill System

The key to Feel Your Body Learning is to experiment with many different styles of moving. Often players heard some Drone Advice and can’t get it out of their head. And they don’t even think about it anymore. It’s so ingrained. And they don’t realize how badly it is holding them back.

So you need to really do different things and test how they feel to break the Drone Coach spell.  We call these movement experiments.

Another way is to use the Straight Path and Perfect Skill System. With this system, you compare your movement with NHLers visually. You might rightly point out that this stops becoming a Feel Your Body Learning System if you’re looking at visual information. But the key is that the visual information is used to give you hints on your next movement experiment. Instead of testing 12 really different and weird hand positions, you test the hand position that you see Ovechkin using. Then you test the one that Kessel uses. Then you test the one Matthews uses. Your NHL inspired movement experiments are more likely to generate the right FEELING faster than if you tried 12 random movement experiments.

Use the steps of the Feel Your Body Learning System to become a feel-based learner. On the way, you can become a more consistent performer under pressure. Meanwhile, you become Drone Coach Resistant.

Good luck!



December 5, 2016

How To Be Intense In Hockey – The NHL Intensity Formula


How To Be Intense In Hockey – The NHL Intensity Formula

If you’re a player who wants to be “more intense”, learn to “compete” and improve your “battle” then this video is for you. For years, you’ve probably heard coaches say these words to you “intensity”, “compete”, and “battle”. It might sound silly, but one problem players face is that they don’t have a clear idea of what those words mean. They understand the CONCEPT, but they don’t understand HOW TO DO IT. And it’s a challenge for ice hockey coaches too. Because it is not an easy thing to explain.

This video will visually show you the difference between an elite midget player and an NHL player. You’ll see that NHLers are intense all the time – or they’re out of a job. It’s just a habit for them. This habit is developed naturally in some players. Others must learn the habit. And yes, you CAN learn this habit. Like any skill it takes practice, feedback, and expert instruction – just like Train 2.0’s Accelerated Learning Framework.

Comment Guidelines: I appreciate and reward those who have honest, respectful, and genuine questions/comments. If you’ve done your research and disagree with what I have to say, I’d love to hear from you. If you make a comment without doing your research or do so disrespectfully, prepare to have your comment deleted, or to be called out for not doing your research. This is a place to help hockey players get better. So please do your part by respecting the guidelines.

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– Jason

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May 17, 2016

Lies Your Off-Ice Trainer is Telling You

I have a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology. I began training at a young age, believing it would help my hockey career. I also started coaching at a young age, believing I was helping.

I’m starting to think I was wrong. Very wrong.

The best player I ever played with (now in the NHL) was very lazy in the gym. So lazy, I think he skipped many workouts. I was not lazy. I trained religiously. I write blog articles. He scores goals in the NHL. So who should you imitate?

I hear parents tell their kids now that all the gains are made in the gym. That they need to be doing functional training in the gym at a young age to off-set their single-sport participation. I might have even told the parents this.

I don’t think that I agree with that. At least not anymore.

I think that success in hockey is set pretty early on. There are two factors that I believe contribute most to hockey success. I have no way of proving this, but nobody else has evidence to disprove me, or prove anything else. It’s very confusing, so I’m not even sure why I’m writing this. Mostly to think out loud.

The two factors are: 1) self-image 2) mindset

You might think these are the same things. They’re both “mental” “intangibles”.

Mindset can be measured. Dweck’s research is pretty clear on this. Players who have a mastery mindset, instead of a fixed mindset will be more resilient in the face of adversity and challenges. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably educate yourself on this.

Self-Image ties into Mindset. But it is different.

Self-image is how you view yourself as a player, and how you view your own ability to face challenges. Some players develop a fragile self-image. Others develop a robust one. Some players develop a self-image of a scorer early on. Others develop the self-image of a grinder early on. Coaches often influence it. Coaches often fuck it up and pigeon hole a player for their entire career. I think this is shitty and should not happen.

Once a player has settled on their self-image, it is a struggle to get them to adopt a new one. The setting of the self-image often happens early. If their self-image happens to contain a fixed mindset, the player is likely to be screwed when adversity inevitably hits.

There are many benefits to strength and conditioning. A properly run program will safeguard against injuries. A properly run program may prevent imbalances and postural issues from developing. A properly run program may even improve performance on the ice. In my experience, only the top 1-2% of strength and conditioning coaches are actually capable of creating a “properly run program”. In my experience, most players can’t afford to train with the top 1-2% of coaches. Or, the top 1-2% of trainers are naturally only available to the top 1-2% of players. Maybe the top 4-5%. But who knows for sure.

Most players would benefit more by taking a gymnastics class, or reducing their time using technology. I spend about 85% of my time as a strength and conditioning coach correcting imbalances that occur because athletes are no longer well rounded. They don’t have the ability to quickly learn new physical skills anymore. They often have screwed up posture. When we get the odd athlete with good posture, who can learn skills quickly, we praise them for being a super athlete, these days. They’re the exception to the rule. Not long ago, the sucky athletes were the exception to the rule. It’s all backward these days.

Maybe strength and conditioning is a necessity for todays athlete. My business model depends on that assumption. But top performers are not made in the gym. Not in hockey. At best, they are maintained in the gym. At best, they’re prevented from falling apart in the gym.

I can make you faster. Way faster. I can make you stronger in the gym. Way stronger. I may be able to affect your mindset a bit.

But I can’t make you think the game. I can’t do much to change your self-image. You and your coach have more control over that than me, as your S&C coach.

This summer, we changed everything. Well not everything, but a lot.

We shifted our focus to teamwork, accountability, and mindset. We are playing more soccer. We derive lessons for hockey from soccer. We are playing more tennis. We derive lessons for hockey from that too. We have more group competitions. We emphasize consistency. It’s pretty different.

We still lift. We still train. We still pay attention to the details of that program. Ask our players, and they’ll tell you how hard they work, and the attention to detail placed on everything we do. But I think that that portion of the summer (training & lifting) has been relegated in importance to a more appropriate priority level. We focus more on other stuff. Stuff that makes a bigger difference. It’s more fun that way.


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.

April 19, 2016

How to Train Skills & Habits in Hockey

The funny thing about animals, is that we often treat them the same way we treat humans. We personify them by giving them human names, attributing their behaviour to human-like desires, and giving them human emotions.

We all know people who have ill-behaved pets. Those humans make the assumption that their pet understands their language and emotions. Their pets don’t understand language or emotions. Pets may recognize language and emotions but they don’t understand them. Pets understand cues and reinforcement.

Some may say that humans are different. The Moist Robot Hypothesis disagrees.

When you break down the world to into cues and reinforcement – you may first discover yourself feeling a little uneasy. Then, many of the mysteries of the world, while still mysterious, become mysteries that are solvable using c(l)ues. (See what I did there?)

For example, if we know that humans react to cues and reinforcement, the mystery is in figuring out what cues to give, and how to reinforce behaviours.

Most humans reinforce the wrong behaviours in the wrong way. For example, my new dog gets very excited after a walk. We put her in her kennel to calm down. Except, when she’s in the kennel she starts whining. Many people would take the dog out of the kennel to reduce the whining. However, that legitimately makes the problem worse. Because the dog gets the outcome she wants, and she gets it by whining: we let her out of the kennel. If we let her out of the kennel, we would accidentally reinforce whining. Most people don’t look past the immediate reduction in whining to what type of behaviour pattern this sets up. Neither do most coaches.

You might see now that it is difficult to respect the laws that govern our behaviour. The logic is non-intuitive to most people.

Remember discussing how to make hockey players more aggressive on the ice? One coach suggested boxing as a solution.

While boxing may have some sort of carryover effects – like increased confidence, decreased fear of confrontation, etc., it doesn’t do anything to help a player recognize cues. Nor does it do anything to reinforce a player’s appropriate aggressive behaviour in a game situation.

I find there are coaches who coach with using a stream of consciousness style. Whatever pops into their head (frustration, anger, happiness) just comes spewing out to the player. Regardless if the emotion reinforces the right thing or not, they spew it out. They do not tactically decide what emotions to let out in order to properly reinforce behaviour.

There are other coaches, the top ones, who tactically determine which behaviours to reinforce. They see a situation and provide a calculated response. Those coaches are few and far between. Most of the coaches who do this well are not conscious of it. I really appreciate them.

Then there are quite a few coaches who think they know what I’m talking about, but don’t. They usually reinforce the wrong stuff, the wrong way. I’d say that 90-95% of coaches are like this. So, there’s a good chance that if you are a coach reading this, you’re one of the coaches who think they know but don’t. Sorry for being blunt, but that’s just the way the statistics line up. But maybe you’re the 5-10%. We can’t rule that out.  (On that note, I usually assume that I’m one of the idiots, and see what I can learn. But that’s just me.)

Anyway, by this point, you might be buying what I’m saying about proper cueing, and proper reinforcement. If you haven’t bought yet, you will buy it soon.

Let’s take it to the next level. Let’s talk about Flow State.

We all know that the Flow state is the psychological state of peak performance. It is also known as being “in the zone”, or “dialled in”, or whatever you want to call it.

Funnily enough, the research for Flow State lines up with the research for cues and reinforcement (operant conditioning). For example, we know that if you want to get in a peak psychological state of Flow, you need three things:

  • The challenge must be hard enough so that it’s challenging, but not too hard that is causes anxiety. Proper challenge to skill balance.
  • There must be clear goals.
  • You must have immediate feedback in your task.

Hmm. What does that sound like?

It sounds like operant conditioning doesn’t it? Let’s see how they match up.

  • The fastest mode of behaviour shaping is with positive reinforcement. In order to properly do positive reinforcement, you must have a clear target behaviour. Sounds like clear goals are needed for both, doesn’t it? Flow Theory and Operant Conditioning in synch? Check.
  • For operant conditioning to work well, the skill to be shaped is a skill that the performer can complete. But the performer is not completing consistently yet. This sounds like finding an appropriate challenge to skill balance like in flow theory, right? Flow Theory and Operant Conditioning in synch? Check Two.
  • Positive reinforcement requires that a reward stimulus be presented shortly after the target behaviour has occurred. Flow Theory predicts that you need immediate feedback to get into Flow. Flow Theory and Operant Conditioning in synch? Check Three.

It looks like the ideas of operant conditioning matches up with research in Flow Theory. Could it be that both theories describe the same thing? An optimal learning structure? And when we have an optimal learning structure, don’t we get Accelerated Learning?

Now here’s a problem for you. I think I’ve come up with a solution for it. I will share in a later post. But meditate on this:

How do you get a player to have an optimal learning structure in a game situation? There are a number of problems. Negative feedback is often immediate in the form of a mistake. Positive feedback is only sometimes obvious. Sometimes it isn’t. Mostly, eedback from a coach occurs on the bench after the shift is over. There is a time gap between skill execution and feedback. In this situation, if a player is unclear on what behaviours deserve positive reinforcement, what happens? Is there any learning at all? Moreover, what if a player is unclear on their objectives for every shift?

Here’s a second problem:

How do you get a player to have an optimal learning structure in a practice situation? There are way more players than coaches. The coach has limited attentional resources – so they can only pay attention to about 7 things at a time. Meanwhile they are supposed to monitor the drill, individual players, and themselves. How do players get immediate feedback? They might get it some of the time, but not all the time. How do players have challenges matched for their skill level? There’s too many players on the ice for the coach to give individual goals to each one. And finally, are the goals for each player always clearly identified? No, because the coach doesn’t have enough time. A player could get 1on1 coaching, but then you lose the interactivity component of the practice.

You might see how these are common problems for hockey coaches. You might also see that it is very far from the optimal learning structure. Can you solve this problem using what we know from Flow Theory and Operant Conditioning? I think I might have come up with one solution. Check it out here.

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.

April 19, 2016

The Weirdest Perspective On Hockey You’ve Come Across

Not long ago, I talked about treating your players like dogs. There was a funny part and an interesting part to this little piece. The funny part is that treating your players like dogs (properly) works. The interesting part, is that not many people understood it.
One reason that few understood this article is because most people don’t understand the Moist Robot Hypothesis.
Scott Adams thinks that humans are like Moist Robots. The Moist Robot has a set of instructions (a program), and it responds to commands based on their programming.
Now, Scott Adams is a “trained hypnotist” and a cartoonist. He often suggests that his readers should “not take advice from a cartoonist”. He might be right. But we might be able to take advice from a Ph.D in psychology: Robert Cialdini. Cialdini suggests that there is a “click, whirr” response in the brain. Where a request framed in a certain way leads to a pre-programmed response. He found that persuasion professionals (salespeople, dealmakers) are adept at invoking this “click, whirr” response to get more “yeses”. Cialdini’s work shows that we might have less free will than we think. From the flower-giving Hare Krishna devotees, to establishing rapport, we can influence behaviour of another, without them knowing, based on what actions we take.
On top of this, in “The Power of Habit”, Charless Duhigg suggests over 40% of our actions are habits – automatic reactions to external events (cues).
Work by Kahneman and Tversky also shows that humans are known as “cognitive misers”. This means that we don’t engage in effortful thinking all the time. In fact, our brains prefer the simple shortcut/approximation most of the time. Effortful thinking has a huge energy cost. So our brain systematically takes mental shortcuts to save energy and processing power. As a result, humans often have predictable (programmed) reactions to certain problems. These mental shortcuts/programs lead to faster processing, but can also sometimes lead to systematic errors in judgment. We call these programmed reactions biases.
You might be getting a little freaked out now that the data seems to confirm this Moist Robot Hypothesis. And that might be helpful.
You see, when you accept that we are indeed Moist Robots, you start looking at your learning and development in a different way.
I used to think that if I “worked harder” I would automatically get better. But then I realized two things: 1) My environment matters a lot 2) How I’m programmed to react to my environment matters even more.
Here’s an example:
As a young player, I was extremely determined to succeed. I would listen to any advice that coaches offered me. I remember that one time, a well meaning coach told me I should take a slapshot with a straight left arm (I’m right handed). While it’s generally true that you make contact with the puck with a straight arm, your wind up should usually be with a bent arm. But I didn’t know this. Neither did this well meaning coach. But since I was so determined to get a harder shot, I practiced this (faulty) technique again and again and again and again.
Eventually, I figured it out and stopped taking slapshots like that. But the amount of years where I had a crappy shot was…a lot. My shot is still the weakest part of my game.
Why did this happen?
1) The advice the coach gave me was shitty. Environment.
2) I was programmed to be coachable rather than trust my instincts.
Fixing the first part is easy. Well maybe not that easy for some coaches. But it should be the easier part: get better information.
The second part is challenge. How do you hack into a player’s program and figure out how they respond to certain inputs?
Remember that in my example, I wanted to listen to a volunteer minor hockey coach more than I trusted my own body feel. Most people do. For me, I derived more pleasure from being coachable than from trusting myself while ignoring a coach. Ignoring a coach was painful to me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this setup so long as your coach gives you better information than your body does. In my case, I was unlucky and my coach didn’t.
One way to adjust the programming in a player’s mind is to show them what to pay attention to. Particularly, what things they should associate pleasure to and what things they should associate pain with.
Even famed life coach Tony Robbins jumps in on the Moist Robot hypothesis. He says that everything we do comes down to the pleasure-pain principle. You do something to get more pleasure or to avoid pain. Often, problems occur in our lives are when we misacossiate pleasure and pain to the wrong things. For example, someone who is overweight associates more pleasure to food than to being skinny. Or the pain of eating healthy is larger than the pain of being skinny. Either way, their pain-pleasure principle is all out of whack. They need to mentally associate pain and pleasure to the right things in the right way in to get what they actually want. He calls this alignment of the pain-pleasure principle with your goals Neuro Associative Conditioning.
The other day, a mom told me that her son’s coach recommended boxing lessons. The coach felt the player wasn’t aggressive enough on the ice and that boxing would solve this. While this seems to make sense, it often doesn’t work that well. By the same logic, I should tell my athletes to play poker to learn to be more deceptive on the ice. I’ve seen the boxing thing happen, and it rarely works for players that don’t have the correct programming for aggression.
The problem is not that the player doesn’t know how to hit a punching back or throw a left hook. The problem is that the player does not recognize the cues for initiating aggression. It might also be true that the player is scared. This means that he associates more pain to initiating aggression than to not initiating aggression. Think about this for a second.
To train someone to be aggressive you cannot teach someone boxing and expect them to become aggressive on the ice. I believe that they need to be taught the cues to demonstrating aggression, and then associate more pleasure to initiating it. Then they need to be rewarded for this. This isn’t a simple or quick process, but it can be done.
So how do you go through this process?
Another Moist Robot supporter, Karen Pryor, wrote an entire book on this type of thing….for animals.
Pryor notes that it is often easier and more obvious to correct (negatively reinforce) bad behaviour than to creatively reinforce a positive behaviour. However, she also notes that positive reinforcement leads to faster adoption of behaviours. Positive reinforcement is different than a reward. Positive reinforcement is INSTANTANEOUS and leads to a neural connection between behaviour and reward. In other words – pleasure. You might see how this ties into the Pain-Pleasure principle. A reward comes later. There is a time gap between behaviour and reward. As a result, there is no neural connection. That is one reason why money (year end bonuses) is not as motivating as people think.
Putting all of this together, can you figure out how you might shape aggressive behaviour in a hockey player? How about other behaviour? (I keep intermixing behaviour and skill. They are the same thing).
Next article we discuss this question a bit more.
If you’re finding this topic bizarre, you may enjoy the rest of the series.

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.
March 1, 2016

How Deceptive Players use Rhythm to Make More Space – A Basketball Perspective

We often hear things like, “You can’t teach skill like that”. Often, coaches do not even try to teach “ethereal” and “natural” skill. Maybe because most coaches cannot define what they are supposed to teach. It is too complex.

If you are like me, you believe that anything can be taught. You believe that given the right toolkit, most people can do extraordinary things.

So one day, I was watching Stephen Curry. I noticed an incredible coordination between hands and feet. I also noticed his deceptive moves. I wanted to know how he did what he did – because I believe that in some way it translates to hockey. I wanted to learn more…

Enter Aaron Chew, M.Sc., Co-Founder of Saltus Athletic Academy, Strength Coach and Basketball Coaching Expert.


Like many other young Canadians, I grew up playing a lot of street hockey. My friends and I would bring our Canadian Tire sticks (with some very illegal curves) to school and store them in the cloak room, and walk across to the local tennis court where we’d play for hours. We’d then skate to the local corner store to buy slurpees, freezies, and 5-cent candies to refuel (I heard these are 10-cents now, which is outrageous).

Being a Vancouverite hockey fan during the 1994 Stanley Cup run, I grew up idolizing Pavel Bure…the Russian Rocket. Now, I could lie and say I was immediately attracted to him because of his hockey ability, but when you’re ten years old, a cool nickname was a good enough reason to like any superstar (Felix “The Cat” Potvin was my favourite goalie growing up…go figure).

Unfortunately, trying to emulate Pavel on the street became the pinnacle of my hockey career, and I never played anything organized. Something about paying thousands of dollars per season in fees and equipment probably didn’t sit well with my immigrant family.

The Value of Cross Training

Leaving my dreams of making “the show” behind, I turned myself into a pretty good basketball player, and eventually became the starting point guard, team captain, and MVP for my varsity high school team. I then coached basketball for a number of years before becoming a strength & conditioning coach. Over the years, I’ve worked at several colleges, provincial and national organizations, and started a training business in order to help young athletes like yourselves perform better.

Looking back and knowing what I know now, those years of playing street hockey were probably some of the most valuable years in terms of my development as a basketball player. More and more literature is emerging that suggests early sport diversity is far superior than early specialization at developing well-rounded athletes, even if the different sports initially bear little resemblance to each other.

My hope for this article is to open your mind about innovative ways to cross-train for hockey and suggest how playing basketball can make you a smooth and skilled hockey player.

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