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.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State Scandal: We Owe it to our Children to Carefully Select and Train Coaches

Growing up as a multi-sport athlete in Western Pennsylvania one thing was always clear - football is king. And Penn State football was at the heart of our love for football. Penn State was something to be proud of, pound your chest about, wear the Nittany Lion logo with swagger. Back in 1987 Penn State beat big, bad Miami as a huge underdog to win the national championship. Penn State won the Big 10 in its second year and went undefeated. Coach Joe Paterno's "Grand Experiment" to win in Division 1 football and be successful academically was, well, successful. Joe Pa was someone who was above the cheating and scandals that are commonplace today. You put your faith in Joe Pa and Penn State that things were being done the right way.

Now we have been rocked by the child abuse scandal and the institution's alleged lack of reporting an incident to the authorities. I don't know how this has affected you, if at all, since this is not a football blog, and certainly not a Nittany Lion football blog, but it has shaken my belief. For you it should serve as a serious reminder that what looks good on the surface may not always be the case.

I am not going to pile on Joe Paterno or others at Penn State. In my heart I believe Coach Paterno is a good man that made a mistake. One that cost him his legacy and his deserved right to retire on his own timetable when he was ready.

I love sport. Sport, and the people who coached me and that I competed and coached with, have shaped who I am today. But, as a parent, a coach, and a sport psychology consultant I realize that youth sport is an environment that may draw those people that would abuse others.

Let's be clear about two things. Mr. Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty. The media does not get to decide if he goes to prison. Furthermore, he was not coaching at the time the 2002 alleged incident occurred. Nonetheless, the scandal at Penn State is a reminder that we owe it to our children to make sure we select coaches that are positive role models. We do this by using background checks. But, this is not enough. We must also educate coaches about appropriate methods for interacting with children. And, finally, we must monitor our coaches to make sure they are "doing no harm".

Policies related to the selection and training of coaches in the US are largely ignored. We have no mandate to educate coaches because we do not treat it like a profession. And, we assume a background check eliminates any chance of abuse occurring. These are big mistakes.

Sport in our country also must do a better job of creating avenues for children to understand what is inappropriate and create reporting systems that are confidential and respectful of the victim. We need to empower children to say "no", get out of the situation, and know what do about it.

While Penn State and Western Pa. has been scarred by the scandal they will recover eventually. I hope the same for the victims in the case, but I cannot imagine the pain that the victims and their families feel. All we can do is pledge to not let it happen in our community. It is time to do everything in power to keep these things from occurring. How? Parents here are a few things to do right away:

1. Ask for your coach to be certified and know their qualifications
2. Get to know the coach on and off the court
3. Monitor the situation, but don't be a helicopter parent
4. Always communicate with your child and listen to them
5. Avoid situations where the coach and the child are spending too much time together alone (both for the child and being fair to the coach)
6. Request your organization to look in to the CDC's educational materials on abuse and violence (or at least make yourself knowledgeable)

Coaches ask for your certifying organization, club, etc. to provide education because it is the right thing to do. It will protect your community from what happened at Penn State.

This is a tragic story. Start taking steps now to make sure it does not happen in your community.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hockey Edge Newsletter October Issue 12, Vol 3 Coaches Column

Decisions, Decisions: How to Train Your Players to Make Good On-Ice Decisions
by Dr. Larry Lauer

Decisions, decisions. Make the right decisions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and you could be a hero. Make the wrong one at the wrong time and you will most likely be a goat. That is the funny thing about the “GOAT” title – the difference between “Greatest Of All Time” and just a goat is slim and happens quickly.

Pros are faced with many tough decisions at a high rate of speed. “Should I pinch along the wall or stay back? Should I forecheck and provide puck support or hang back so we don't get caught defending an odd-man situation? It's the end of the shift, maybe we could get a 3-on-2, or maybe I should dump it and go for a change. Should I go out and play the puck behind my net or stay in the crease and let my defense take care of it?” Play it safe or not. There are many choices to be made that decide the fate of their team. Players make hundreds maybe thousands of decisions in the course of a game.

A decision a player makes can turn the tide of a playoff series. In the 2011 NHL playoffs Vancouver and San Jose faced off in a physical, penalty-filled series. In Game 2 Sharks veteran Patrick Marleau decided to fight the Canucks Kevin Bieksa, who is more experienced at throwing fists. Why would Marleau fight someone who is more adept at fighting? The purpose was to change the momentum in the game; to give his team a lift. To Marleau it was worth risking his jaw and well-being to pick his team’s energy and focus up. However, a few moments later Shark Ben Eager took a checking from behind penalty because he was fired up from the fight. His inability to manage his emotion led to an Ill-timed penalty. During the intermission retired NHL great Jeremy Roenick said that if the Sharks came back Marleau's decision to fight "a scary" Bieksa was the thing that made it happen. However, poor decision making from Eager muted Marleau's attempts to lead. Vancouver regained momentum, scored later on another Eager penalty, and dominated 7-3.

Coaches also make decisions that affect the course of a game and a series. Philadelphia Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette called one of the most important and famous timeouts in recent history when the Flyers were down 3-0 in Game 7 of their 2010 series against the Bruins. James Van Riemsdyk scored soon after and the comeback of all comebacks was unfolding. Laviolette is credited for refocusing his team at a most crucial time. In a more controversial decision Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault decided to sit Luongo in Game 6 of the 2011 first round series versus the Hawks. It was widely criticized by the media as a move to protect Luongo's confidence. Chicago would win Game 6 in OT after Luongo had to come in to the net after an injury, but Luongo bounced back to play well in Game 7 and win (thus saving the organization from some serious second-guessing about goaltender moves). The life of a coach is full of dilemmas and second-guessing; you can make what you think is the right decision at the time and either get loads of credit when it works out or slammed when it doesn’t.

On-ice decisions (and even pre game decisions) are certainly one of the most important factors in winning and losing. Thus, it would make sense that coaches would spend a great deal of time working on it. But, how can you train decision-making? How can a coach ensure that his team will make good decisions in pressure situations?

UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden’s Eight Laws of Learning

“Explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition and repetition.”

To make good decisions, as one of the greatest coaches in all of sport John Wooden emphasized, the tried and true practice of repetition applies. Coaches pound a philosophy and a system into the brains of the players through constant repetition and communication. This consistent effort to coach and
play a certain style creates habits that the players can fall back on during high speed affairs on the ice. It becomes a default method of making decisions. When Tampa won the Cup in 2004 the default was "Safe is death". Coach Tortorella's players knew to attack and keep attacking. This provided the Lightning a mindset to play an aggressive style even when under pressure.

Visualize Scenarios, Options, Consequences, and Success

Another method many hockey players use to make good decisions on the ice is to pre-play or visualize game situations and the "correct" play. A defenseman will visualize playing a 2 on 1 or 3 on 2. A forward will visualize their positioning in the defensive zone. A goalie will visualize coming out of the net and being aggressive. Visualizing prior to the game (and even during breaks in the game) helps players to make good decisions under extreme pressure and with very little time and space. Here are two examples from NHL players from a study conducted by Barbour and Orlick (

I spend about 20 minutes before the Game picturing myself in my mind going through every possible scenario of the game. Me coming out of a one-on-one where I take the guy and the puck gets picked up by one of our guys, in their end taking a shot that goes right by the goalie. I imagine myself as invincible.

I try and get a mental image of who I’m going to be playing against. I was primarily a checker last year, so if we’re playing a real good team where they have a Gretzky or Lemieux, I’ll start thinking about things that I can do to help the team in stopping them. ...’What am I going to do if Gretzky goes behind the net?’ or ‘if Lemieux starts to steamroll down the wing, am I going to go right at him or should I pick up one of his wingers because I think he’s going to pass off, that type of thing.

It would be in your best interest as the coach to train your athletes to visualize how they should play the game right down to specific situations they will face. For those youth hockey coaches reading this newsletter you may be thinking “this is too advanced for youth hockey players.” If you are thinking this I would say you are right and wrong. The concepts that you are teaching cannot be too difficult for young hockey players to understand. The first step in learning is the ability to create a mental or motor map of the movements required to perform a skill or task. Just because young players have the ability to visualize does not mean they will comprehend how to trap in the neutral zone. However, teaching simple aspects of the game like puck support or a triangle attack allows young players to visualize their roles. Do not underestimate the visualization powers of youth. They are often more creative than adults. The coaches just need to figure out how to put it in a language that unlocks their ability to visualize success.

Good Role Models Enhance the Learning of Good Decision-Making

Repetition and visualization are two key ways to teach players to make good decisions. You can enhance your efforts further by providing your players role models that make good decisions. Watching Niklas Lidstrom with an informed hockey coach that is describing the subtleties of Lidstrom’s brilliance can be a great lesson for youth. They can then visualize how to make plays and use Lidstrom as a point of reference. The emergence of YouTube has really helped us as coaches. Players can now in an instant download a video of Nik Lidstrom to their phone and watch it prior to a game or practice.

Use Questions to Train Decision-Making

Finally, a great method for developing decision-making in adolescent, and even youth hockey players is to use divergent questions. These questions require the players to think. For example, you can take a situation and describe it to your team, such as the puck is in your corner and you have a guy in front of the net. You are standing halfway in between them. What choices do you have? What are the consequences of each decision? What would you do and why?

Do you see the effectiveness of this method of
teaching? It requires the players to come up with answers and provide a rationale for their answer. Just as important you are teaching the player to evaluate situations, weigh the consequences and thus the risk/reward ratio, and then make a well-thought out decision. What you will find when you use this approach is that your players will begin thinking the game better on their own and coach themselves on the ice. Is that not something that we all want?

A very quick decision in the Vancouver-San Jose series by defenseman Kevin Bieksa spurred the Canucks to a win over the Sharks and eventually to a series victory. With the game tied 2-2 Bieksa was super aggressive when he decided to jump up through the neutral zone. He caught the Sharks by surprise and went in on a breakaway. It was an aggressively good decision. Bieksa then made another great decision to shoot quickly and low at goalie Niemi's feet on the breakaway catching him moving and off guard. The result was a 3-2 lead. Vancouver may not have won handily if not for Bieksa's quick thinking. It was good decision-making made on the fly. This is exactly what we want from our players; the confidence to trust their decisions and play aggressive.

Hockey Edge Newsletter October Issue 12, Vol. 3 Dr. Larry's Takes on Wallsbeck's Imagery Article

I hope you enjoyed Mr. Wallsbeck’s article on Swedish hockey players uses of imagery. It is always great to hear what professionals are doing in other countries to reaffirm our work in the US and to learn new and innovative ways of enhancing performance.

Mikael has a great deal of expertise in the area of imagery and has been working in hockey for some time. I know that any hockey player can benefit from the imagery techniques that he described.

What I learned from this article is that imagery needs to include very detailed, specific language to be most effective. Reread his quoted sections where he describes the kinds of images that are helpful. If you take this idea and create your own imagery script you will benefit from it. You should also seriously consider creating a Mp3 version of your imagery. Many athletes use Mp3’s prior to
competition to create the mindset, focus, and feelings of readiness and confidence to play  their best.

The results that Swedish players use imagery for many different reasons supports what I know from working with American hockey players over the years. Imagery can build your confidence prior to the game, and even in the weeks leading up to the game. Therefore, imagery should be a training tool that serious hockey players are using consistently. In addition, it helps players feel ready. One of the greatest sources of confidence is a feeling that you have done everything you needed to and that you will perform well because of it. Imagery is great because it reminds you that you are ready and allows you to review the game plan in your mind to feel even more ready!!

Imagery is not an easy skill to learn or master by any means. We are easily distracted while imaging and some of us are not immediately good at imagery. So, if you are thinking of learning imagery to improve your hockey game, which I hope you are, then be patient. Know that you will need time to learn how to use imagery effectively.

There are two key things you need to work on while imaging. First, work on controlling the image. Be able to see, feel, etc what you want. Second, the images should be clear. So, images should not be distorted, fuzzy, or come in and out. These two things are key because the more lifelike the images the more you gain from it!

Hockey Edge Newsletter October Issue 12, Vol. 3 Imagery! A Useful Tool to Enhance Performances

A useful tool to enhance performances in ice hockey  
Written by Mikael Wallsbeck

Imagery is a mental skill that many ice hockey players use to prepare for games, as well as enhance their confidence. In this article, I would like to present a study I did examining 17 ice hockey players’ (playing in the third highest level in Sweden) experiences using imagery in relation to their sport.

I dare to say that almost every professional athlete uses imagery because it is a very handy and powerful tool. It is important to not be confused by the meaning of imagery and how it is different from visualization:

Imagery, in the context of sport, may be considered as the voluntary or spontaneous creation or re-creation of an experience using the different senses.  Imagery may occur in the absence of the real stimulus antecedents normally associated with the actual experience and which may have physiological and psychological effects on the imager”.

This means that athletes can use imagery to re-experience a good performance (e.g., a good hit or tape-to-tape pass) or create a new experience that hasn’t occurred yet, for example scoring a goal on a certain goalie. Certainly NHL teams in the 2011 playoffs should have been using imagery of scoring on Boston goalie Tim Thomas because in reality there was not much going in to his net!

When I played ice hockey I, for example, used imagery in the locker room before games. I imagined myself performing well in different situations. For example, I imagined myself executing a good pass from the defensive blue line to the offensive blue line. I felt the feeling in my arms, heard the crowd and saw the other players around me. The effect of this imagery was that I felt confident and had a positive feeling before the game, because in my mind I had already performed well.

To learn more about how hockey players effectively use imagery we studied Swedish hockey players. These individuals played on the same team and completed the Survey of Imagery Experiences in Sport (SIES) that has been developed by Fredrik Weibull and myself. In this survey the athletes fill in how they experience imagery, how frequently they use it, for what purposes, how they use it and what effect the imagery has on their purposes for using it. Below I present two tables on what they actually imagined (content) and why they did it (purpose).

Table 1. What these ice hockey players imagined.
Categories of contents (most frequently used at the top)
Successful individual performances
Unsuccessful individual performances
Successful team performances
Physically strong
Imaging using imagery in the context of ice hockey

Table 2. Categories of purposes for why the ice hockey players used imagery.
Frequency of purposes (most frequently used at the top)
Self confidence
Problem solving
Find the right feeling
Improve Tactics/Strategy
Lower arousal

Most players experienced imagery in the context before competition, and in Table 1 the content of the imagery and purposes are presented. Most players used the imagery content of “Successful individual performances”; this content was more frequently used compared to the content of “Successful team performances. This might be something to think more about. It might suggest that although ice hockey is a team sport, players should use more imagery to experience successful individual performances. Personal performance is something that lies more within the individual’s control. This also might support that imagery is a useful tool, because it is an individual technique. However in Table 1 you can also see other types of imagery that were used by the ice hockey players. Interestingly, unsuccessful performances were second on the list. Why would a player imagine failure? It may be that they are preparing themselves to deal with adversity and responding in a positive manner. Or, it could be that they are fixing previous failures in their mind, and then creating the appropriate response. Finally, maybe the player is just experiencing negative effects and wants to improve their imagery ability and be able to use more positive imagery.

Why do hockey players use imagery? In Table 2 you will see that imagery was most commonly used to increase self-esteem, motivation and self-confidence by these players. You can also see that it was used for several different purposes which suggest that imagery can benefit players in many different ways and really is a versatile tool that players need to take advantage of more often.

Practical implications
This small study shows that ice hockey players use imagery for several different purposes and that imagery is something that can be beneficial to use in order to become a better ice hockey player. When you read this article you might recognize some of the imagery content used by the players; you potentially may have tried some of the same things. Use this knowledge to motivate yourself to keep on using imagery to enhance your performances. In order to use imagery to enhance performances use the following exercise:

1) Decide on what you as a player or coach want to improve in your performance.

As an example the Swedish player Johnny wants to improve his passing accuracy.

2) Formulate the text in a positive and good way
What Johnny needs to do first is to describe for himself how he wants to perform the passes and write that down. Such as:

“I am behind the goal and see the back of the goalie. I see one player approaching the offensive blue line. I experience the sensations in my hands when handling the stick. I move forward leaving the area behind the goal, waiting on the right moment to release the pass. I’m feeling the puck leaving the stick, I see it sliding over the ice and the pass is perfect. My teammate receives that pass and attacks the blue line and the offensive zone.”

3)      If you want you can record the text and create an Mp3 file. You can use your own voice or someone else’s. This will make it possible for you to listen to text with closed eyes.
4)      Image the exercise several times.
5)      Create a new exercise and do the same thing all over again.

If you want to know more about how you can work with imagery in relation to ice hockey contact me and I will be glad to help you!

About the Author

Mikael Wallsbeck lives in Sweden and has a European masters in sport and exercise psychology. He has a background in hockey and is currently a referee. Mikael also consults with athletes and groups in order to enhance their performances, and works for the company Imagine to deliver individualized imagery programs. He is also a board member of the Swedish association of sport psychology.

To Contact Mikael;

If you want you can check out his blog on Most texts are in Swedish but some are in English.