The Truth or the Honey?

The Truth or the Honey? It’s more than a game.

One of the phrases that we use with our players, whether it be at a clinic, a camp or as part of the teams that we volunteer to coach is “Do you want the truth or do you want the honey?”

Every player likes to hear when they do something well and as coaches and parents we should latch on to those good things making 100% sure that we let the athlete know that a) we noticed and that b) we are proud of them. A positive experience is going to cultivate more positive experiences. The athlete is going to continue to improve, not because they are afraid of “getting it in the ear on the way home”, but because the rush of doing something well and having your parent experience it with you is something that they want to feel over and over again. Sharing good moments with the people you love is what life is about.

Focus on the good, but don’t ignore the bad.

Athletes want the truth as much as they need it. They want to know when they didn’t perform well.

If you only comments regarding their performance are ever “great game” or “good shift” then you are doing them a disservice. The honey is sweet for a short time, but how do they learn to overcome adversity, become resilient and grow if everything is always perfect? What happens when in the future they don’t do a great job and their boss tells them so? Will they have the tools to deal with the hurdles that life puts in their way?

Athletes rely on their coaches and their parents to give them the information that they need to improve. The truth helps them grow. It isn’t always positive, but it can be delivered in a positive way.

A good coach holds his or her players accountable. My team of 9 and 10-year old girls always wants the truth. They know that our coaching staff loves them and that telling them the truth isn’t being mean, it’s just the truth. We then ask them how as a team we will overcome our challenges. They come up with the answers, are invested in them and subsequently do amazing things.

Support the athletes. Ask good questions and let them come up with the solutions. Don’t just tell them what to do.

Encourage them. Latch on to the positive moments and ensure that you let the player know that you are proud of them.

Step back. Let them do their thing without constant guidance.

Remember, you don’t coach a sport. You coach a person. Let them embrace the process. You’re in this together.

The picture that is attached to this post is a team after a championship game. The medals around their necks are Lower Lakes Best of the Best Silver Medals. These are incredibly hard to win. Many of the girls are in tears, distraught, barely able to keep their composure at all. At first glance you might think that they were crying because they lost. Not so. They were crying because our season was over. Something incredible and wonderful had come to an end. They were devastated.

That guy crouched down in the middle of the circle is me, trying not to cry myself while I read out our motto one last time. The girls had read it themselves all year, but they asked me to do it for the final time. What an honour.

If you deliver the truth in a positive way your players will embrace it, invest in it and crave it. They know that you aren’t being hurtful. You are being helpful. They know that you care. They know that you want only the best for them. Those relationships don’t end with the season does. You form life-long ties with magnificent people who are going to do incredible things, perhaps in part because when they were young you took the time to tell them the truth in a positive light rather than taking the easy road and just giving them the honey.

#LeaveNoDoubt

Coaching the Creativity Out of Athletes

At a recent session with one of our groups of young ladies I experienced a rather jarring moment.

We were working on separating upper and lower body movements.     As anyone who has ever tried to teach this can attest, it’s a hard concept at best and for some players it’s paramount to asking them to push a boulder up a hill with their nose.

This group however, was absolutely nailing it.   They were flying through the challenges so fast that I had to improvise and add more difficult aspects on the fly.    While I was making them better players they were making me a better coach.    It was glorious.     Smiles everywhere.   Fist pumps and celebrations as they powered through every obstacle that I put in front of them.

Then….

I asked them to show me their best, craziest, most outrageous move and the entire session came to a jarring, grinding halt as if I had just drained all the oil out of the engine.

“Can you show us one?”  they asked.

Boggled, I asked them again, just show me something crazy.  Try anything.  Don’t worry about if it works or not.  Have fun with it.

“But, but… we have no idea what to do.”

Reluctantly they gave it an attempt, but of the 15 ladies in the group, 12 did exactly what we had just been working on, like robots.    They learned quickly, and could replicate what I was showing them.   They could even recite when and why they would use the skills, but they couldn’t skate down the ice and come up with an outrageous move on their own.

So, where did the creativity go?

As I asked more probing questions it became clear that the creativity that should been something to embrace had been “taught” out of them.

“My coach says to always do it this way.”

Good intentions gone wrong.  There is no single way that anything in hockey should be done.  There are simply too many situations to box up skills that way. Teach habits, not structure.    Teach creativity, not systems.    Let the player mix their skill-set and their habits in a way that makes sense to them.   Every hockey journey is unique.    Teaching hockey as if it was a manufacturing line in the industrial revolution is a recipe for disaster.  Habits transfer to higher levels of hockey.  The same can’t be said of systems.

A player with great habits and creativity can fit into any system.     Let them run.  Let them experiment.  Let them make mistakes, the more the better.

They will amaze you.

This Ted Talk sums it up better than I ever could.

Thanks ladies for making me a better coach.

Stay positive!

See you at the rink,

John

 

Cadence

Something that jumps out at you when you or your child attend one of our clinics or one of the practices for a team that our instructors coach is that the instructional time has a defined cadence.

Every instructor is a bit different, but in general the pace of the practice or session increases as it progresses.    We start with the explanation of the skills that we will be working on, demonstrate them and then inject the players into the program.

There is a constant flow (and this doesn’t necessarily mean flow drills) that keeps as many players engaged as possible while still trying to retain a proper work to rest ratio.     Even while at rest, the players are asked to be doing something from spinning pucks on their stick to analyzing the players who are moving through the challenge.    There is no time to goof around, turn off their brains and tone down from the pace we are setting.    Any player who has been part of our “gong show” drill can attest that you always need to be ready to go, even if you aren’t first in line.

This cadence or pace carries over to the next session, to games and in some cases to the players’ lives away from the rink.    Players show up to the rink (and to life) ready to go and ready to meet challenges.

Coaches, here are some things that I do that may or may not work for you.  I could talk about each point at length, but that…. would break the cadence.

  • Structure practice just like you structure a game.
    • If you want players at a game an hour early, then have them at practice an hour early and structure that time just like you would before a game.   This of course, means that you need to efficiently use that time.   Don’t waste everyone’s time by having the kids and parents at the rink early while the kids goof off in a dressing room for 45 minutes.   Make use of every minute.
  • Plan your practices, but don’t lock yourself in.
    • I spend hours planning what I want to teach and how I want to teach it, but as we all know, “No plan survives first contact…”
    • If your players are struggling with a drill perhaps they need more time on it or perhaps you haven’t properly explained it.   Jumping off to something else just because you planned it doesn’t make sense.  Give them the time they need to learn.
    • Don’t plan 10 drills in a 50 minute practice.   Nobody is getting anything out of that.   You spend as much time moving pucks as the kids do going through the drills.    Pick 3 drills, preferably ones that mix the skills that you are teaching together and do them right.
    • Theme your practices around one skill or one mixing of two or three skills.   Show the players how the pieces fit together, don’t just give them three skills and expect them to do it themselves.
    • What are the key teaching points?  If you don’t know then neither will your assistants and the kids will have zero clue what they are actually working on.
  • Explain “Why” you are teaching a skill and “Why” it is important to the player.
  • If you ask your players to work on their skills at home then you should be doing the same.  If you ask 30 minutes from them, then you need to put in double that.    If I have learned nothing else, it’s that the more I know the more I realize that I don’t know much.    Be a life-long learner.

Everything here will help you build out a practice or training session that has a cadence or rhythm that is conducive to learning.    Don’t be afraid to overload young athletes  with information, but be prepared to answer the questions that are sure to come.

Questions?  Just ask.

John

 

 

Transferable Skills

I had a great hockey conversation today about something I call “transferable skills” or skills that continue to bear fruit as the player progresses in age category and/or skill category (B to A to AA and beyond).

Make no mistake, everyone needs to work on skating, puck handling, shooting and the like, but is the skill being taught in a way that will benefit the player in the long term? In many cases the instructors are pressed to provide immediate improvements or short-term lightning bolts that will impress parents instantly.

The parents are pressed to find immediate results because without them their child won’t make the team. It’s a vicious circle.

It takes a confident, educated instructor and a patient, supportive parent group to break out of “what works now” and instead opt for true long-term development.

A player who is never taught how to be in a proper supportive position on the ice has no hope of ever playing hockey at a high level, no matter how fast they skate or how hard they shoot. This is why so many players who put up big numbers in the OHL never make it in the NHL. They understand the game from a singular, offensive position. Being able to find the position that is offensive, while at the same time defensively responsible is the transferable skill that they never developed.

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of these skills. The more a player has in their toolbox the more readily they can jump from level to level.

Coaches, I implore you, learn the correct techniques and put winning on the back-burner. Teach the game the way your charges will need to understand it when they move to the next level and not the way that wins you games at Novice.

Parents, give your coaches a chance to teach in the long-term.

Most importantly, players… when you are being taught, always ask “why”. Why are we doing it this way? Why do I move my hands that way? Why do I crossover? Why… why… why…

If you understand the “why”, you will know if it is something that will help you in the long-term. Don’t be upset if the instructor wants to explain it after you leave the ice. Ice time is expensive.

It’s easy to make players good or even great in the short term. It’s incredibly challenging to coax them through a long term program where they don’t see immediate results, but in this case, good things most certainly come to those who wait.

If you have questions, ask, PM, email. My door is always open.

John

Resilience Not Confidence

I was told last night that the players we are working with are very confident.

Confidence is something that you hear about at the rink all the time. “If only she were more confident then she could…..”

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is backwards. Players aren’t able to perform a task because they are confident. Being confident doesn’t somehow teach them the mechanics of being able to skate well for instance. It’s quite the opposite. They are confident because not only can they do something well, but somebody is giving them positive reinforcement when they do.

The one defining factor that our long-term players share is that they are nearly fearless. They will try anything, full-out, falling down, losing the puck, popping back up and going at it again.

The fear of mistakes is almost gone. They know that the path to excellence isn’t paved with victory signs; it’s paved with resilience. On Tuesday night one of the young ladies in our program struggled immensely with one of our challenges. She worked through it, over and over and on Wednesday night…. she blew through it better than many Midget aged players could. For reference, she’s 10-years-old and she’s fearless.

Resilience and not confidence (in my opinion) is what makes a player great. Be fearless. Try something, over and over and over again until you can’t get it wrong. Work hard. Enjoy the journey and enjoy the success that being resilient provides.

Confidence is a by-product. Let’s focus on giving young athletes the encouragement they need to soldier through when things get tough. The results will amaze you.

#LeaveNoDoubt

Students Are Also Teachers

It was a fun, but incredibly tough night for the Boys’ Group last night. We were working on a skill-set that even entry-level pros struggle with and it became an out and out brawl between what the players’ minds wanted them to do and what their bodies were able to accomplish.

Hockey is about mixing skill-sets together. You learn a skill, learn another and then hopefully you have a coach who can show you how those skills fit together or better yet, the player comes up with their own unique way to mix the skills.

Watching the video, the struggles and the little successes was a fantastic learning experience for me as an instructor. Watching the players as the “fly on the wall” through the GoPro gave a completely different view compared to what you have when you are instructing them. Left to work on the skills on their own, they came up with innovative ways to solve the problems that were unique to them.

One young man, stopped and started the same section of a challenge over a dozen times until he could do it without error. That itself is amazing, but once he completed the challenge where the skills were mixed he went right back and did it all again, this time his gritted teeth and face of determination were replaced by a huge smile on his face.

This is a gift from player to instructor.

These players are absolutely, unquestionably, brilliant!

As is often the case when you are instructing young players, they teach you as much as you teach them. With some guidance and provided you are teaching in small groups these players can solve any problem. Thanks to the young men who were on the ice last night.

Remember, you can do anything.

#LeaveNoDoubt

Multiple Pucks

The featured image on this page is of Daryl Belfry working with Patrick Kane using multiple pucks.

There are many cool challenges that we run, but the ones that generate perhaps the most questions are always challenges that include multiple pucks.

Watching players attempt to move multiple pucks down the ice can be painful for a parent.   It’s a struggle.   The player’s nervous system is being stressed.  It’s easy to end up chasing pucks all over the ice when a player uses too much force and just as easy to look like a snail as they move the pucks with too little, prodding each only a couple of inches at a time.

So… why do we do it?

Every multi-puck challenge actually starts with one puck and one simple pattern for the player to work on.    Most players will work at a comfortable pace and when asked to push themselves beyond their comfort level will increase the pace slightly, but still, perform the task with some semblance of composure and success.

The problem is that they never truly push themselves into a position that is beyond their current capabilities.   The comfort zone is simply too comfortable.

By introducing first two pucks and later three or even four into the same skating and puck movement pattern the nervous system becomes stressed and the player is forced into an uncomfortable position.   Not only must they use forethought to move the pucks into positions where they will eventually skate, but they must also think about how the other pucks are moving, put it all together, form a plan and then have their body execute it…. on the fly.

The pure mechanic of the challenge often becomes secondary to the thought process and this is where the magic happens.   Great players can spend their time thinking about how the game is unfolding around them rather than about how they are going to move the puck through it.

As we stress their nervous system with multiple pucks the mechanics become automatic.

We always end the challenge with one puck and never in hundreds of challenges has the result not been incredible to watch.   What was a labour 10 or 15 minutes earlier with one puck is now a smooth, quick, effortless procedure.    After forcing the nervous system to work with multiple-pucks, having only one seems simple.  Anything seems possible with only puck and that too, the belief that the mechanic is simple just adds to the magic.

Multiple pucks is just one tool our toolkit, but I hope other coaches will give it a try.  The results are spectacular.

See you at the rink,

John Hoskin
Go2TheMax Hockey