Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December Hockey Edge Newsletter Available

In the latest Hockey Edge Newsletter I took the Pyramid of Confidence and put all five posts from this blog into one newsletter. This is a great way to give your players or a coach you know all the information on building confidence in one place.

The December edition of the Hockey Edge Newsletter is available by clicking on the link on the right sidebar or going to the Southeastern USA Hockey coaches page.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disciplined Preparation Habits Create Consistent Performance

“I’d get pumped up with hard rock music. I thought that was the way to go to get yourself in a real zone. But I learned it’s quite the opposite. I’ve got to put myself in a peaceful state where you’re calm.”  John Vanbiesbrouck, NHL goaltender (The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 7, 1999)

Mr. Vanbiesbrouck I can empathize with you, I did the same thing for football. Get all revved up listening to the Rocky soundtrack (showing my age here) and then splat, not play my best. I remember being so pumped I would literally head butt other players, sprint on to the field (no I did not dance like Ray Lewis of the Ravens) and then be too energized to focus on my role. Hockey was easier for me in terms of finding the right energy level; I think probably because it is more of a flow game than a series of plays where you are trying to pick up what the other team is doing at full speed.

It is critical to know what energy level you need going into games (and practices). You know exactly what happens to a team when it comes out flat as a pancake? They get pancaked!

At the same time having too much energy is not good either, believe it or not. Too much energy leads to your mind racing and almost hyperactivity where you can not focus on one thing or switch your focus to relevant cues effectively. You find yourself thinking random things; often things that distract you and cause you to lose confidence. And, when your performance drops because you are distracted the large amount of energy turns into a large amount of negative emotion like anger and frustration. It is a vicious cycle.

Energy is at the heart of performance. Without it or with too much and you won’t play your best. The funny thing about it is that it’s an individual thing. Everyone has a unique energy level where they are more confident, focused, ready, and in control of their emotions. What’s your optimal range of energy?

The Thermometer

Frequently, players say you can never be overly energized. However, like John Vanbiesbrouck, many hockey players need to be more relaxed and calm to play their best. How much energy do you need to play your best? Do you play better when you have a great amount of activation? Or, do you prefer to be more calm and relaxed?

One way to learn about how much energy you need to be successful is just to think back to your best and worst performances and put a number to your energy level. How? Think about your energy on a thermometer which has a scale from 0 to 100 degrees. For those that need a great amount of energy their temperature would be hotter and be around 70-90 degrees. For example, wingers that are looking to forecheck hard will often want a great deal of energy.

For those that want to be more relaxed and cool they will have maybe 30-50 degrees of energy. Goaltenders often want to be more relaxed than their wingers because they play the whole game and don’t want to burning their energy too quickly. They also need to be experts in focus and picking up the puck through traffic. Being distracted is more disruptive to a goalie than any other player on the team.

Now, let’s think about your optimal level energy. What was your energy in the best game? The worst? Now for your best circle that number on the thermometer. And, for the worse put an “x” on that number. Did you find much difference between the two? Most players find a big difference between the two temperatures. The circle could be your optimal temp. Remember it; this is your target energy level as you prepare.

Now think back to how you generally play. Where do you think you normally need to be to play your best? You probably should be close to the best game temperature. You can use a range such as 50-60 degrees instead of 53 degrees to help identify and find your optimal energy level.

Daily Habits Lead to Optimal Energy

Paying attention to your energy levels just doesn’t happen on game day, it should be a daily habit to make sure you have the best energy for the most important things. If you have a big test, make sure you are focused and ready for it. Avoid doing “all nighters” going into your test because you will be tired and less able to retrieve what you studied.

If you have a big tournament coming up in a few days then you need to make sure to get rest, hydrate, and eat healthy, all those things you should be doing on a daily basis. Energy is all about good habits.

What habits do I have that lead to optimal energy? (For example, get enough sleep, visualizing the game plan)

What habits take away from my optimal energy (for example, not enough sleep or eating junk food)

Besides the principle of using the best energy for the most important things, (which means you need to be good at prioritizing) it is also important to realize that it is just as important to rest and recover as it is to expend your energy. You can deplete your energy tank. That’s when players become sick, fatigued, burned out, and injured.

What can I do to make I recover from the training load?

Recovery strategies could include getting massages, going to bed early, stretching during cool down, avoiding extra physical activity during times of intense training… Recovery should also include mental and emotional strategies such as relaxation and visualization.

Stress is a psychological phenomenon of believing you don’t have the capability or the resources to deal with the demands placed on you. However, the results of stress are physiological as well as psychological. The stress response includes accelerated heart rate and breathing, sweating, and heightened awareness. The problem is that stress over time can be related to falling ill, getting injured, and burning out. We are more susceptible to these things when our stress is high which burns our much needed energy leaving us feeling lethargic.

Therefore, you need to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally, as well. Make sure you are fulfilling social needs as well as hockey and academic needs. Call a friend, talk to your parents, go to the mall with your teammates, it is okay to have some fun.

However, a smart hockey player plans wisely and manages his time and energy well. He doesn’t procrastinate studying for an exam until the night before – because that creates life stress that will not only lead to poor exam performance but also worse on-ice performance.

Attempt to put some balance in your life when you can, but also take care of business. Do not get behind the “eight ball.” Get ahead on your studies, in fact, set a daily time to study and do homework if possible.

Just as important as it is to “show up” and workout or study, you need to ENGAGE and click in when you’re doing it. Going through the motions or being distracted leads to ineffective studying, practicing, competing, you name it - if you’re not engaged you’re not at your best. Make sure you have ways to engage when needed such as taking two minutes to breathe deeply and focus on your goals for practice or visualize your self successfully completing a class presentation.

Competition and Optimal Energy

During competition having optimal energy can be tricky because it comes and goes. That is why I suggest to player to do Check Ins – check in mentally to see if you are energized and focused. How would this work? Before a game check in mentally to assess your energy level and focus. Do you have enough energy? Do you have too much? Are you at your optimal temp? What are you thinking about? Are you thinking 2 P’s (positive and productive) or negative, irrelevant stuff?

When you check in you know if you need keep following your routine because your energy is good. Or, if it is too low or high you need to change it.

Reducing Your Energy Level

Just as common as not having enough energy is too much energy. You are too psyched, pumped, jittery, hyper, bouncing off the walls. When this occurs you are unable to focus and thoughts race in and out of consciousness. You also have less control over your anxiety so if you start doubting yourself you could tighten up and have a bad game. So, you need to become composed and relaxed. Simple activities like listening to slower music, doing deep breathing and visualizing, or slowly stretching can help you calm yourself. Distracting yourself from the importance of the game by finding someone to chat with can also help to reduce nerves. Finally, many professional hockey players will play soccer or do some other physical activity to burn some of the nervous energy and have some fun. It is a good way to get loose and keep your mind off of your own nerves.

Raising Your Energy Level

Not having enough energy is a common problem that usually comes from poor preparation. When you are not ready your body doesn’t prepare for action. That is why the butterflies are a good sign; it means your body is getting ready for battle!

When you don’t have enough energy you need to get excited. Do some vigorous exercises like high knees or fast skating. Listen to hard rock music (or if you are like me Rocky works too). Visualize a very intense game you played recently. Watch a movie that inspires you. Think “explode”, “pumped”, “energize” and visualize your temperature going into the optimal range of the thermometer.


In the end, it is your responsibility to be ready to play when the puck is dropped. By knowing your temperature and ways raise and lower your energy you can more consistently play your best hockey.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Concussion Problem in the NHL

According to Hockey Night in Canada over $87 million dollars is sitting on the shelf due to concussions. Sidney Crosby has basically lost a year of his career, hopefully not more. Chris Pronger was ruled out for the regular season and playoffs by the Flyers on Thursday. The NHL's leading scorer at the time Claude Giroux is out indefinitely. What was a pretty slow year for concussions suddenly took off in the past week.

There is non-stop talk now to find a solution to the growing problem. Some interesting ideas have been tossed out there. Changing the shoulder pads of the players so that they are less bulky most certainly would make a difference. I also think there is some merit to going to Olympic-size ice dimensions. Unfortunately, HNIC also reported that the average would be $10-12 million per rink to make the change. This cost does not factor lost revenue by taking out high-priced front row seats. I don't see teams agreeing to this solution. Others have argued that taking out the trapezoid behind the net and allowing the goalie to play the puck will reduce big hits on helpless defenseman. Finally, automatic icing has been suggested for years as safer than the "touch-up" rule.

While many solutions have been presented most experts are struggling to find the "answer" to the problem. In my opinion the league is not going to find a simple answer. The concussions incurred by Crosby and Giroux came from hits from teammates. And, Pronger's concussion allegedly is from a high stick he took on the follow through of a shot. There is no way to regulate these kinds of incidences. Concussions also occur from random acts like getting hit with the puck in the head.

Keith Jones pointed out that the speed and size of the players is contributing to the increase in concussions. And, no one wants to see the game slow down. I don't see the NHL putting "restrictor plates" on the skates of players. So, where does that leave the NHL?

Curbing aggression will start and end with the players. First and foremost, players must respect one another and eliminate illegal acts that enhance the potential for concussions. They must avoid hitting from behind, boarding, elbowing to the head, and charging at a defenseless player. Again, simply minimizing illegal and borderline play will not eliminate concussions. Thus, players must also be smart and avoid situations that could lead to a head injury. For instance, I am surprised how often I see players turn their back as an opponent is about to hit them. As quick as the game is going players have to keep their head up and be agile. Otherwise they are a sitting duck in the middle of a crossfire.

Ultimately the answers to the concussion problem lie with further research and discussion about the precursors to the incidences causing concussion. It will take a number of changes to curb the tide of concussions. I hope we can find solutions soon that keep the players safe and also maintain the speed of the game.

Friday, December 2, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Do It: Blog Entry 5

Blog Entry 5: Confidence Training Under Pressure

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” - Muhammad Ali

In previous posts about confidence I have presented the pyramid model of confidence. How to know yourself, your strengths and limitations, the importance of preparation, routines, and discipline, and thinking positively and productively (2 Ps). In this post I will put it all together and present what an athlete needs to do to develop resilient confidence: the confidence to believe in your self despite being a slump, losing, or just not having things go your way.

At the top of the pyramid is the ability to be confident in pressure hockey situations - championship games on the road; down 3-2 in the third period, or up 3-2 and trying to finish the game off. To be confident in big games, tryouts, or even in playing in front of your school you have to not only have the first four layers of the pyramid in the right place, but also have trained your skills to work in pressure situations.

You must train under pressure and work on staying positive and productive in your thinking. How? In practice have your coach put you in very competitive board battles or scrimmages where something is riding on it (you win the scrimmage and you have two less sprints in conditioning). And, when put in these pressure situations have a plan for staying positive. Plan for what triggers negativity and then work your plan to stay confident.

A plan or routine you can use in negative trigger situations, like after turning the puck over, is the 3 R’s.

  1. RESPOND – Positive

Have an immediate positive (or at least neutral) response to what has happened on the ice. In the heat of battle no one likes a “sulker” or a “do everyone’s job” player. Instead, treat mistakes for what they are – a single mistake. Learn from it and let it go. And, look forward to tough situations like being down a goal. See it as a challenge and allow adversity to bring out the best in you – the competitor.

So, the response stage is about managing your reactions to negative triggers. Using self-talk (Let it go, Ignore it, Move on) or visualization (see the mistake, erase it from your mind, and replace it with the play you will make) will help you stay positive in tough situations.

  1. RELAX – Breathing

Next you want to compose yourself. Too often players fail to slow down their breathing and their thinking enough to gain control. They get anxious and have negative thinking. This of course hurts their performance.

Slow down to get your game on track. Take slow, deep breaths to compose your self. Slow down to think clearly. While this strategy works very well on the bench between shifts, it can be used during the game before a faceoff or even quickly while you are skating. It takes practice but you can do it. I have seen it with my own eyes and also have used this deep breathing in play myself.

  1. REFOCUS – 2 P’s thinking

The final step is to refocus. You want to get your focus back on playing the game, not on your own thoughts. So, the goal: refocus back on playing hockey immediately. This can be done by using 2 P thinking (Positive, Productive) that gets you focused and playing again. Focusing words or phrases such as “Focus”, “Quick”, “Wall”, "Absorb the puck" or “Sponge” (for a goalie), “Keep Working”, “Stay in It”, and “You can do this” will help to get your mind back in the game. Simple reminders of how you want to play and confidence-boosting statements both can help you back in the moment and playing your game.

To be a confident hockey player you must train your mind in pressure situations. Find ways to put the pressure on yourself and work your plan for staying confident. Follow the steps in this pyramid of confidence to help you boost your confidence and maintain it once it is where you want it.

Now it is up to you. What will you do to become the confident hockey player you have always wanted to be? Follow the advice in this pyramid and you will begin to understand yourself, break your ceilings, develop habits and routines to make you physically and mentally fit, think in disciplined ways to be more positive and productive, and remain confident under pressure.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Look for Stories of Inspiration in Your Home Towns

As we reflect on things this Thanksgiving weekend what do we have to be thankful for in sport? 2011 has been the year of the scandal for college athletics. The Fiesta Bowl cover-up of financial wrongdoings. Ohio State football team's tattoo scandal was followed up by a lack of reporting and the firing of their head coach. University of Miami football players received cash and other benefits from boosters. The ongoing abuse cases at Penn State and Syracuse continue to surprise and disappoint us with each new revelation.

In hockey the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, all considered "tough guys" and "fighters" has raised questions about legitimacy of fighting and the stress that is placed on these role players, and the potential for concussions to have played a role in their deaths. Concussions, drug abuse including steroids, lockouts and fighting over billions of dollars (NFL, NBA) has left many sports fans frustrated and not very thankful.

It is easy to become distraught with the state of sport in recent years. I know I have at times. I see the angry discussion posts, "Another entitled athlete doing what he wants." There seems to be a new story each day that shows how sport has lost perspective. Not inspiring to say the least.

I guess I have learned that we should not always be looking for inspiration from professional and collegiate athletes. Certainly there are many good people doing the right things, but they are overshadowed by those that are not. Maybe it's time to change the focus. It may be that the more inspiring stories are in your neighborhood and even on your street. The high school or junior athlete that quietly trains every day without guarantee of scholarship or big contract, but instead for the love of the game, for the chance to play, for the school, for the team, and for his or her friends is to be appreciated.

This is not to say that high school and club programs are free from politics or inappropriate behavior. We see the issues at this level, as well. However, many of our young athletes are making good decisions every day. And, many of our programs at the high school, club, and recreational levels are doing things the right way.

On this Thanksgiving weekend let's enjoy the deluge of great professional and collegiate sporting events. At the same time we must recognize those young athletes that run sprints, lift weights, tackle the books, and make to bed by curfew. We have stories of inspiration all over this country - we just need to look a little closer to home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

To Perform Great You Need Confidence, Here's How to Do It: Blog Entry 4 of 5

Blog Entry 4: Disciplined Thinking

As mentioned before confidence is not a magical, mystical thing. Confidence comes from your personality and being aware of that personality and how you react to situations, and then putting the hard work every day to become fit, skilled, and mentally tough. So, once the foundation of the confidence pyramid is set, you know yourself, are working hard, and making good decisions, then you should be confident in all situations, correct? Well, not so fast. Remember your personality? Even if you are doing the work to get better and be in shape, your mind may not trust that you will perform well, or may focus on negative things. And, some situations are difficult for all players, such as going to a new competitive level of hockey or coping with an injury. Hockey players that have great confidence are disciplined thinkers. They flush their mind of doubts and focus on the 2 Ps – the positive and productive. 2 P thoughts keep a player focused on solutions even when times are tough.

If you want to become an optimist, be more positive even in pressure situations, and just believe in yourself then positive thinking has to become a part of who you are everyday.

“It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” - Muhammad Ali

Now it is not as simple as saying “Ok, I will be positive from now on.” You need to work on some mental skills to keep you positive when your mind would like to revert back to old, stinking thinking.

The first thing is to be aware of your negative thoughts, and then accept them. Seems odd that I would ask you to accept them, but that is what you need to do. Accept that even professional hockey players have doubts. These thoughts are part of being human. However, they do not need to dominate your thoughts nor take away from your belief. Negative thoughts are part of the randomness of thoughts happening in your brain. Many times they are not true depictions of what kind of person or athlete you are.

After accepting that it would be normal to have negative thoughts, it is helpful to identify situations that elicit negative thinking and behaviors from you and then pick out the exact negative thoughts that you have that chip away at your confidence. For instance, a common situation that causes negativity is making mistakes early in a game. A player will then think "oh no, I don't have it today" and basically accept that they will not perform based on a couple of plays! Identifying the situations or triggers that cause negativity and doubts, and then capturing the exact thoughts that accompany it allow you to challenge and counter those specific thoughts.

After identifying the negative thinking in trigger situations you will want to release the thought and focus on the 2 P’s. Sometimes we call it reframing when you take a situation and frame it a different way. A great example occurred during the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. The Philadelphia Flyers were losing to Chicago 3 games to 2 and headed back to Philly to keep their Cup hopes alive. This kind of situation requires players to be disciplined in how they think or their season will end.

Flyers Ian Laperriere, desperate to win the first Cup of his 15-year career, says his teammates still believe.

"Why not?" he asked reporters when asked if the team believed it could engineer another escape. "Nobody (in here) is down. We didn't play the way we wanted in Chicago. We're in our barn now and we know how we play here. We're confident."

"They had one bad game here, we had one bad game there, and now they are back in our barn and let's win this one and worry about Game 7." (Flyers are sure final is going 7 games, Roarke,

Basically, what you want to do like Laperriere is to challenge the potential for doubts and negative thinking and focus it on what will help you deal with the situation. For example, if you think “We’ll never beat this team, they are way too big and too fast” then I guarantee that your confidence will suffer. And, if enough players on your team are thinking the same way you probably will lose. Instead challenge that kind of thinking and replace it with something like, “Our team is skilled and ready to play. I am ready.”

So, to summarize...
1. Identify "triggers" or situations that cause you to be negative, doubt yourself, and play worse.
2. Pick out the specific negative or doubting thoughts that harm your confidence. Many players have negative thoughts that they think over and over again. Find it and deal with it.
3. Challenge the negative thinking. Take a thought such as "I suck" and counter it. "I missed that pass. It happens. I will get the next one." This kind of countering will allow you to stay focused on the present and play your best hockey.

Ultimately, if you learn how to think the 2 P’s in all hockey situations and you will be a very confident and consistent player.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Player and Coach Programs

The Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program was something I developed following my experiences as a youth hockey director. Countless times I watched players get involved in dirty or chippy play that later caused fights, scrums, and cheap shots. I then had to suspend players that got involved in the more serious incidents which was never fun.

Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program in the News!

Want to know what also was striking about the dirty play of youth hockey players? Rarely did a dirty player actually play good hockey that game. It is not like the NHL where players are very smart about their dirty play and use it to intimidate or get under the skin of their opponent. Players that were playing dirty took penalties, spent more time on the bench, and played worse hockey!

Something else struck me, the sport psychology concepts I was learning in graduate school at the University of North Carolina Greensboro could be applied to these situations. I believed it could work because, well, it worked for me. I had a temper and struggled to manage my emotions. Using the mental skills and taking on the philosophy I was immersed in at UNC Greensboro allowed me to change my dirty, aggressive play in hockey.

This has created some credibility for me when I work with hockey players. In their first meetings with me they are usually convinced that what we are doing won't change their dirty play. But, once they learn about how I and others have developed emotional toughness skills that allows us to respond positive in negative situations they begin to consider it. However, the true buy-in only occurs when the player finally decides that he has control not over how he feels but how he reacts to his feelings on and off the ice.

The Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program does not attempt to make players weak or remove emotion from the game. Instead, the purpose is to allow players to USE the emotions they are feeling to their performance advantage. This is a skill that is not taught in our society but is absolutely vital in all walks of life. This Program helps players stay safe, stay out of the penalty box, and play better hockey.

I have been training coaches to teach the Tough and Clean Program to their teams with Michigan Amateur Hockey Association with my good friend Gord Bowman. I also continue to apply the principles taught in the program to players that I come in to contact with that need this assistance. Finally, MAHA and I have taken steps to create an online Tough and Clean Program but it is still in development.

If you have a child that is aggressive and plays over the edge, taking penalties, risking injury give me a call or send me an email. I can provide in person and long distance consulting for players to stay out of the penalty box, stay safe, and play better hockey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Coaching the Creative Hockey Player: Insights from those on the Ground

*This was based on an interview I did with five very knowledgable hockey people back in 2007. It appeared in the Hockey Edge Newsletter April, 2007 (Vol. 8, Iss. 2).

Bob McCaig, Retired Coach-in-Chief, Southeast District, USA Hockey
Ryan Rezmierski, Scout, Nashville Predators (formerly Director of Player Personnel, USA Hockey National Team Development Program)
Scott Souter, Associate Coach-in-Chief, Southeast District, USA Hockey
Greg Scott, Coach, Germantown Academy in Philadelphia, PA
Dr. Kevin Blue, Associate Director of Athletics, Stanford University (Graduated from MSU and was an elite player in Toronto growing up)

What can be more exciting than seeing highly skillful competition during the playoffs when the pressure is at its greatest? Watching the San Jose-Nashville ’07 playoff series was entertaining. There was a ton of talent on each squad including some very creative playmakers. The match up between centers Joe Thornton and Peter Forsberg was “must-see” viewing in and of itself! Both Thornton and Forsberg are first-rate playmakers that prefer to set up line mates than score. The creativity they display is often lost in a system-dominated league and the media’s focus on a few dirty plays and coach banter.
This article is not inspired by watching the pro game, however. Instead, it comes from watching the Pee Wee A Little Caesars Championship at Munn Arena here in East Lansing, Michigan. I was struck by something that happened during the shootout to decide the championship. A young boy did a Denis Savard-esque, spin-o-rama penalty shot and scored to put his team up in the shootout. How creative is that! How gutsy is that! I wonder what his coaches would have said to him if he missed. Having talked to his coaches in the past I think they would have supported him hit or miss. The boy’s team eventually won the shootout.
Spurred on by seeing the spin-o-rama penalty shot, I thought an article about creative hockey players would be excellent for this edition of The Hockey Edge Newsletter. I don't consider myself an expert on creativity, and especially on spin-o-rama’s, yet I wanted to provide readers some ideas about a subject that is often talked about, but is rarely addressed in practice or in training. Therefore, I am reaching out to a group of people in the hockey world to tap into their collective knowledge.

Five members of the hockey community responded to the questions with insightful and thought-provoking answers (panel is listed on page 2). These are folks that I trust have great knowledge of the game and were also kind enough to provide information that could help the masses!
The panel was emailed with the following lead-in and asked to respond concisely to the questions.

We all probably agree that we (coaches) would like to produce, develop, and train creative ice hockey players, not “robots” that all play and think the same way.

Please provide your concise and clear thoughts on the following questions:

  1. What makes a hockey player creative? What can he or she do that less creative players cannot?
  2. How do players become creative?
  3. How do you coach a player to be creative?
  4. What is the significance of developing creativity in hockey players?

Following are the panel’s responses to the questions. The article ends with a summary and some recommendations of what it means for you, the coach.

What makes a hockey player creative?

Greg Scott: The ability of a player to feel the game physically and mentally without feeling pressure to perform.

Players who develop a love for the game early on, think about the game constantly, and learn to focus on the intricacies and nuances, without feeling like the game is work, but just an organic extension of their being. That flow is translated into their creative play.

Kevin Blue: Creative players are able to recognize and exploit offensive opportunities that other players aren't (e.g. banking the puck off the side of the net, using you're feet, using decoys and misdirection etc).

Ryan Rezmierski: A combination of the ability to react to different situations on the ice as they happen and a mind that can process that information.

Bob McCaig: We need to let the participant’s just play at a young age – no x’s and o’s. Let them be involved and less structure. If we teach them respect and build their self-esteem they WILL become creative not robots.

Scott Souter: I don’t think it is easy to train players to be “creative” but we can give them the opportunity to be “emulative”.
1.      The little boy in the Pee Wee A Caesar’s championship “emulated” a “creative” Denis Savard “Spin O Rama” move.
2.      When I was a boy growing up in Canada, my brothers and I spent hours on the pond and in the driveway experimenting with the great moves we saw on TV watching Bobby Orr in the Stanley Cup, Paul Henderson in the Canada Cup, Phil Esposito in front of the net, Yvan Cournoyer on a Break Away, Gilbert Perreault on an end to end rush.
3.      We go out and practice this stuff over and over.  We were not creating, we were emulating.
4.      This improved our skills and our ability to be creative.

What can he or she do that less creative players cannot?

BM: THINK -  imagination – dream – see themselves doing something beyond what is the norm.

RR: See situations before they are available, think a few steps ahead.

GS: Play without pressure. Focus at a higher level. Concentrate without the distractions of what is taking place around them, and stay in the moment and focus on the task in front of them.

SS: Any player can make the great moves if given time and space and little pressure. The great players do it at high speed, under pressure in confined space utilizing unconscious integration of motor skills developed through repetition and skill refinement.

How do players become creative?

GS: Start by playing the game for the love of it and for themselves, not for someone else, i.e. parents. Work on the game outside of practice and scheduled game play. Play in the basement, the driveway, on the pond, on paper, in their mind (day dreams).

SS: Players become creative when they develop sound fundamental skills allowing them to focus their thought process on the environment versus execution of the skill. All skills need to be developed equally so that they can be executed in an integrated fashion - unconsciously and confidently (skating, puck handling, shooting, passing, puck protection, body contact). Practice and repetition makes the difference!

RR: Watching players execute plays at a higher level, and then trying those things in practice.

BM: By those of us that are involved with the players encouraging he/she not only for positive results but also negative as long as they are making some sort of effort. Celebrate mistakes as well as positive accomplishments.

KB: Developing creativity in offense requires a freedom to try things without being afraid to fail. This means that the player needs to engage in plenty of unstructured play and experimentation. Growing up, players should play shinny and road hockey as much as possible, and watch highlights for unique plays and try them in informal settings. In Canada, much of the creativity developed by players takes place in "shinny" games- five on five hockey on outdoor rinks without equipment, where no score is kept . . . the object of the game is to score, but to do it in a creative way.

How do you coach a player to be creative?

BM: Identifying what the player would like to do. For example, if a player wants to try goal let them do not say you are a defenseman. We motivate players by letting them try different things that they want to do not what we want them to do– this way they will be creative. Do not stereotype them at an early age.

RR: Think outside the “box” and put restrictions on practice, meaning guiding practices with different variables, such as small area games, cross ice games, different recognition games and so on....

SS: Allow players individual time in practice to be creative and practice great moves that they have seen and want to emulate.  Encourage them; do not reprimand them for trying creative things (I bet the boy in Michigan practiced the Denis Savard move over and over).

Utilize small games to allow total development of all skills in an integrated fashion in a small space, where there is little time and space to operate. Line drills provide too little time for practicing actual skills; usually do not integrate all skills, are one dimensional and far from creative.

Coaches need to adjust coaching style from autocratic and structured to a more laissez-fare and unstructured style in segments of practice to allow for creativity.

GS: Coaches can’t coach a player to be creative, but they can provide an environment for a player to be creative in. Coaches can encourage players to try new skills, and let them know that making mistakes is ok.

Coaches can provide challenges both physically and mentally to players, by giving them tasks that they themselves have not thought of. At the same time coaches should keep the game simple enough so that players are free to try new things in games and practice on their own.
KB: Once per week, take five minutes in practice and introduce players to a new "creative play" (e.g. using the back of the net, batting the puck out of the air before it hits the ice on the face off, looking off the goalie on a two on one, a new type of stick handling move, a new give and go etc). Encourage the players to work on their own for a couple minutes or with a teammate.
Importantly, many coaches stifle creativity in their players by "over coaching" them. For example, attempting to run "set plays" on the power play takes creative initiative away from players in an offensive situation.
What is the significance of developing creativity in hockey players?

BM: They will not only be creative as a hockey player but in life as well. People that are creative and have “people skills” will be productive and successful in life.

GS: Players, who are allowed to be creative, develop high levels of self confidence, in not only their game and team play, but in life skills. Their ability to think through complex problems and see things in a different light at times is something that they carry with them no matter what the situation is on the ice or in life.

RR: This sport is based on changing circumstances and there are NO set plays just concepts. Hockey players must have some sort of creativity to their game, which is the difference between good and great players.

SS: Creativity requires total and integrated skill mastery. Skill builds confidence and self esteem. Self esteem provides for the development of individuals which is a good building block for teams. Skill allows players to work better in team units and function better in life – encourage creativity.
KB: Creativity is a way that players who don't have strength and size can differentiate themselves from others who are bigger and stronger. Also, creative offensive plays are intrinsically fun- that's what makes shinny so enjoyable. 

Summary and Recommendations

What an excellent response from our panel. Several themes seemed to be repeated and/or were prominent as I read the panel’s responses. 

Read and React/Anticipate
Hockey creativity was considered to be the ability to read and react to situations, and process this information more efficiently than other players. Thus, recognition of opportunities such as a player about to break free from a check or a developing “back-door” play is characteristic of a creative player. Ryan Rezmierski wrote that creative players “think a few steps ahead” or anticipate.
Focused and Confident Under Pressure/Go with the Flow
Creative players were also considered to be capable of focusing under pressure, and have the confidence to try things others would not. As Greg Scott remarked, you have to be able to do this under pressure with great focus, and Scott Souter agreed suggesting that creativity must occur under great speed and confined space.
Coaches should not underestimate the importance of “flow.” Dr. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi has studied flow, or optimal experience, for many years. Players whose skills match the demands of a situation are capable of freeing their mind and becoming totally engaged in the moment. Once the mind is freed, players can just “read and react” and not rely on pre-planned behaviors. While in flow, players have keen awareness of their environment and are able to perceive options as they present themselves. As Ryan Rezmierski mentioned, players are then able to process this information and make creative decisions.

Creative hockey players also have imagination, a vision of potential options that the “average” or less creative player does not have. Bob McCaig’s usage of the word “Dream” stands out to me. Dream may mean being able to actively create in your mind options that are not the “default” or normal action, yet have desired results of setting up a scoring chance. Greg Scott also mentioned “daydreaming” as a way to develop creativity. Certainly the process of dreaming of creative plays readies a hockey player to attempt these things in practice and allow them to happen in games. 

Emulation and Repetitive Practice
Developing creativity does not only occur from imagination. Scott Souter and Ryan Rezmierski remarked that players “emulate” creative players and their moves, and then practice these moves over and over. Scott also asserted that a player must have a solid foundation of skills to execute creative moves. This certainly relates to the earlier suggestion that players must be confident in their skills to be creative. 

Unstructured Play Develops Naturally Creative Players
Greg Scott, Kevin Blue, and Bob McCaig all pushed for young players to work on their creative hockey skills in unstructured situations with a focus on trying creative moves. Playing shinny, on the pond, or just for fun allows players to be free of the worries of making mistakes and being judged by coaches, parents, and teammates. This opportunity allows them to develop the confidence to later try this move in a game or practice. By doing this, Greg felt that players fall in love with the game and creativity becomes a part of who they are, and then naturally flows in games (when they are able to manage their emotions and nerves). This mirrors Bloom’s (1985) research on talented performers (not just athletes) in the book Developing Talent in Young People. Bloom found that participation in a chosen endeavor began relatively inconspicuously. The focus was on having fun and building fundamentals, mostly with parents and neighborhood friends, not on winning or constant training from a professional. 

Coaches Must Not “Over Coach” and Create a Fear of Failure Environment
The panel also felt that coaches need to allow players to be creative and make mistakes. As Kevin Blue suggested many coaches “over coach” and do not allow creativity to flourish. In fact, coaches should encourage players to be creative and try new skills and allow them to make mistakes as Greg Scott passionately argued. When we are reinforced for a behavior that we are modeling (such as a deke or pass between the legs) we are more likely to make it part of our “game”. In contrast, when coaches emphasize not making mistakes and playing conservative, players often develop a fear of making mistakes and are less likely to try something creative. Making the safe play because of the fear of losing/mistakes is being reinforced. Thinking outside the box as Ryan Rezmierski remarked is frowned upon. Players in this environment tend to play less creative and play not to lose. This is not a recipe for developing creative hockey talent!
One of my mentors, Bob McCaig, has long been challenging coaches to allow young players the freedom to be creative. When he wrote “Celebrate mistakes as well as positive accomplishments” it reminds me of one of our many talks after a coaching clinic. Coaching hockey creativity is tricky, but a take home message is allowing youth to experiment, emulate, and execute without constant restrictions or evaluation/punishment. As Bob suggests, find out what youth want to try and give them the opportunity. Allow them to be themselves!

Provide Time and Opportunity for Creativity in Practice
Scott, Kevin, and Greg recommend that coaches provide time for players to be creative in practice. Greg talked about challenging players and getting them out of the comfort zone by giving them new tasks, while Kevin felt teaching something new each week (e.g., looking off the goalie) would develop creativity. Scott and Ryan reminded us of the importance of small games as a way to provide a creative environment. 

Creativity in Hockey can Transfer to Life
Finally, several panel members asserted that learning to be creative in hockey can help outside of hockey. Whether by being able to problem solve and see creative solutions to old problems, or having the ability to adapt to changing environments and anticipate, creativity definitely is a benefit in work and social situations.

In conclusion, the theme that creativity is the combination of motor skills and psychological processes, players must learn the skills and then get to a mental state where they can produce these skills under pressure, was prominent. Interestingly, the panel took the concept of creativity in different directions at times. Several panel members talked about emulating moves whereas others focused more on coaches and the development of creativity. In addition, different opinions existed on the development of creativity, whether or not a coach can directly develop it, and just what exactly is creativity.

Thanks to the panel for their willingness to share their impressive ideas! My hope is that the panel’s wisdom provides you, the coach, with some things to think about and maybe even apply to your coaching. I believe, as I am sure the panel does, the development of hockey talent in the US will be enhanced if coaches from “Learn to Play” to juniors allow creativity by setting up a positive, development-focused environment and begin to challenge and teach players that there is more than one way to play the game.
1.      Coach for creativity. Allow some free time in practice and talk about and teach creative moves.
2.      Set up a practice climate that allows for creativity. Be less authoritative in your style and allow players to make mistakes. Reinforce them for the effort and talk about options – good and bad times to attempt certain plays or moves.
3.      Ask questions of players, especially as it relates to options in hockey situations. “What are your options on a 2 on 1 and the defenseman is leaning towards you?”
4.      Practice 2 on 1’s, 3 on 2’s, etc. Encourage players to try creative moves and reinforce these efforts.
5.      Develop your players’ imagery abilities so they can envision possibilities versus thinking of only one move or play, thus becoming predictable.
6.      Have players watch film of creative players and use imagery to burn the moves in their mind. Then, have your players model the moves or plays.
7.      Coach the foundation of hockey skills to the point of over learning so players can then have the confidence to attempt more creative and more difficult moves or plays.
8.      Teach players to manage stress and emotion so they can free themselves of distractions and worries and allow their natural game to flow.
9.      Focus more on development knowing that it will lead to wins.