Cold Rinks, Muscle Memory, Roxy Music and Parking Egos
My weeks are always filled with hockey in one way or another. Although I am not coaching a team this season, for the first time since 1988, I have been thinking about the game just as much in writing these blog posts and doing some different things around the rink. Here are a few smaller items that came to me this week. None deserve an entire page but all fit nicely into a paragraph of their own.
I have always worked with entire teams in practice setting so it has be very interesting working with a very talented player for the first time one on one. We hit the ice at 6:30am. It’s cold and we are a little sleepy but they have been terrific workouts and I have been forced to think a lot about skill development. I realize how little attention players get in a team practice setting. As a coach, you teach a skill, make general adjustments and hope all 15 to 20 players all work hard to get it right. When working one on one, there is no hiding for the player. Every shot, pass, stride is watched carefully. As a coach, I am careful not to over correct and I have done my best to put forth the notion of “figure it out”. I love seeing players make adjustments themselves to complete a skill better.
In the fall, I had an interesting conversation with Paul Quantrill, former Major League Baseball pitcher and now pitching coach. We were talking about over correcting young athletes when they are struggling and he gave a great example from the baseball realm. He talked metaphorically about the pitcher who is having difficulty throwing strikes as his pitches were all going too high. He said there are two approaches to the coach’s visit to the mound. One, tell the pitcher what he is doing mechanically wrong and what he needs to adjust (arm position, stride length, push off, etc.) or two, tell the pitcher to throw the ball lower. Coach Quantrill argued that the latter can work much better because an athlete can make many adjustments to mechanics by only concentrating on the outcome. A pitcher has thrown the ball properly thousands of times, he just needs to make that muscle memory connection and correction to make it happen. As coaches, we need to be careful of over coaching and let players “figure it out” more.
In my “day job”, I have been working on some promotional material for a mentorship program that I am heading up. In a brainstorming session we saw a terrific video made by Rolex and featuring artists from different mediums talking about being a mentor (and a “protégé”). One of the great quotes from Brian Eno (musician formally with Roxy Music) was that “you don’t really understand your ideas until you try to articulate them to someone else. And also, of course in the act of articulating, you find yourself saying things that you didn’t know you knew.” (Click here for the full video (4:20)). I have found that much of my 28 years of coaching experience has bubbled to the surface in writing about the game of hockey and coaching in general.
Last week I received a great note from a local coach in response to my blog post about playing full speed. His team had gone through a couple games not playing at full speed. It got him thinking that he needed to modify his practices so that his players were going in shorter bursts, at full speed, and then having time to recover properly. Here is what he shared:
“In the last few practices, I have tried to create drills that take 20-40 seconds to complete. The players then have a short break and go again. I find that too many coaches ask for the kids to go hard ALL practice long and don't give the player’s time to recover. If we are to ask our players for "game speed" for every shift in games, then our practices have to have recovery times so that they can do the drills at "game speed" as well.”
Dialogue and evaluation is so crucial to becoming more proficient at what we do. And being able to change the way we do things, especially as hockey coaches who often are stuck in the way they “have always done it”, will undoubtedly make us better coaches and our players better players. I really enjoy receiving e-mail like this and thank you to those who have shared their experiences with me recently.
A quick hit! Jess, a varsity rugby player at the University of Victoria, wrote a blog post entitled “The Value of Varsity Athletics: A Rebuttal”. It is a terrific read and Jess talks to why she plays sports at a high level and how that will absolutely hold her in good stead for the rest of her life.
Finally, I am spending the next week filling in for the video coach of this season’s national women’s hockey team. He is taking a week off to spend with his newborn and I am spending 18 hour days providing support to the coaching staff and players at “January Camp”. This is a mid-season camp that serves not only as a teaching week for skills and systems, but also an evaluation opportunity for the coaches who will be naming the national team competing at the world championships in Kamloops, BC later this spring.
There are many things about being with Hockey Canada this week that really excites me. First, I get to be immersed in hockey 24 hours a day for an entire week. Second, there are tremendous coaches and players there and I learn a thousand things a day about the game and coaching. Third, as everyone always says that works with Hockey Canada, it is simply an honour to be a part of the program and to help in preparing a team to go and compete for a world championship. And fourth, and in many ways most importantly, I will get to work with staff and players who I have been involved with in different capacities for the past six years. When you are working together, in short and intense periods of time, striving to the same goal, there are connections that are made that are unique and very special. Everyone parks their egos at the door and comes to camp knowing they will be working their butts off. It will be a great week!