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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.

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

August 21, 2014

Hacking Sports Psychology – What “You think too much!” really means…

“You think too much” is common feedback that I received throughout my career. And it confused me.
It was correct feedback…because people who were not as smart as me could play hockey much better than me. It drove me nuts.
But did their brains really just shut off? And is that what I should do? Just shut my brain off?
It turns out that a more accurate way of describing what was going on is, “you’re thinking with the wrong system.”
Two Ways of thinking…

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!