Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Support Jack's Pledge

This a call to the readers of this blog to support Jack's Pledge. If you are not aware Jack Jablonski, a Minnesota hockey player and more importantly a young man with a future, was checked from behind with a tragic result: a severed spinal cord. Now his future has changed and let's hope he will achieve some of the dreams he had before the injury.

Please go to jackspledge.com to take the pledge. To support the movement to make the game of hockey safer go to jabby13.com

I am an ardent supporter of Jack's Pledge and playing the game of hockey safe while being competitive. Please support Jack's Pledge!

MSNBC article is good, but misses on need to teach emotional toughness on the ice

The hockey world is continuing to look at the incidences of concussions, and with recent traumatic injuries to teens playing hockey, how to make it safer. Here is an article from MSNBC...

After tragic teen hockey injuries, can a rough sport become safer?

I agree with the comments made by Dr. Tator and Dr. Stuart in this article. Players do need to strengthen their neck muscles. I remember doing this as a teenager. I do believe it made a difference in me being able to take a hit, control my head, and keep myself out of dangerous positions.

I also agree with the idea that players need to play safe and heads up hockey. No doubt about it. This goes without saying. The stop signs on the back of players' jerseys is a good reminder to not hit from behind. At the end of the day players need to respect each other...

At the end of the article the author started to get at the core issues with these quotes:

“We’ve witnessed, I think, more violence and aggression than there should be,” Tator explained. “This is one of the things that has been looked at carefully – increasing the emphasis on fair play and trying to reduce the influence of the win-at-all costs attitude. So when parents are in the stands shouting ‘kill em’ or ‘get em,’ they need to realize this isn’t conducive to safe hockey.”

Stuart agreed. “There is a certain culture in sports that overemphasizes winning to the point of promoting intimidation in order to achieve the goal of being victor. We have to teach sportsmanship and respect,” he said.
There is one missing piece here, however. Players most be taught the emotional coping skills to make good decisions under pressure. The game is fast and the mind has to make split-second decisions. If players are focused on how mad they are that their opponent cross-checked them in the back and didn't get a penalty, added to the fact they haven't scored in 5 games and their coach is about to take them off the power play, and you will get emotional decision-making.

Emotional decision-making is rash. It is based on feeling not on rational thoughts. Emotions are based in the immediate, not on stopping and thinking through situations. Thus, players must be taught to control their emotions and be emotionally tough - to stay positive and productive in adverse situations. This is why I created the Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program, and the coach version Coaching Tough and Clean Hockey. Coaches are not necessarily equipped with the skills to teach players to manage their emotions in intense games. We need to teach these skills to coaches, parents, and players!

Winning-at-all costs does play a role in these horrible injuries. But, so does the macho attitude of hockey players. An eye-for-an-eye attitude leads to emergency room visits and suspensions. Let's change the course of hockey by teaching players to think clearly and make good decisions. To teach them to Play Tough and Clean Hockey.

Contact me if you want to learn more about Tough and Clean Hockey and incorporating athlete, parent, and coach education and skills training in to your hockey program.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Good Start to Season Crucial to Making Playoffs

I was talking recently to a friend about how teams are bunched tightly in the NHL Playoff races. On January 5th the #1 and #9 seeds in the West were separated by 8 points (pending the LA-Phoenix result) and 10 points in the East. This friend was saying how the Leafs have had a great first half of the season and yet are barely holding on to a playoff spot. Indeed, if you look at the Leafs on January 5 they are 1 point over the line.

This conversation made me think about the importance of the start of the season. Does a good start greatly increase a team's chances of making the playoffs? I came across an article written by John Kreiser on nhl.com that discussed the percentage of teams holding a playoff spot at Christmas that make the playoffs. As tight as the races are amazingly over the last 10 years 80% of teams that were in the top 8 spots in their conference at Christmas went on to make the playoffs. I was a little surprised by the high percentage of teams able to finish what they started.

Holding Down Playoff Spot at Christmas a Good Sign - NHL.com

This is good news for those teams in the top 8. While teams are breathing down their neck to pass them by it will be important to stay focused on continuing to rack up points. Avoid long losing streaks and the playoffs are likely. The New York Rangers, which only have a 10 point lead over the #9 seed Devils for all of their great work in the first half of the season, will have to continue to notch points despite sitting on top of the conference. Ten points does not seem that secure; that is only 5 wins. However, if you extrapolate that out to a full season that is a 20 point difference between the Rangers and the Devils. So, while the race is tight things will space out as the schedule goes in to February and March. So, the Red Wings flimsy 6 point lead on the Kings and Avs will be a hearty 12 points if the teams hold pace. Of course, they often do not hold their pace!

What about those teams barely below the playoff line? Of the 32 teams in the last 10 years that did overcome a slower start and make the playoffs 12 were within 2 points of the #8 spot at Christmas. Thus, if you want to make the playoffs starting fast is very important. Teams have overcome larger deficits to make the playoffs, however, the odds are clearly working against teams in the bottom of the standings. It is difficult to jump 3, 4, or 5 teams just to have a shot at the #8 seed. Therefore, the games in November matter just as much as the games in March. Get those points early so you don't have to count on a team winning in regulation time in early April.

The way I look at it is in 5-game increments instead of trying to focus on the big picture of reaching 96 points (which is about what you need to safely secure a playoff spot these days). If a team can consistently gain 6 of 10 points over the second half of the season they will significantly raise their chances of making the playoffs. That would come out to 48 points in 40 games. Add to that an extra 4 or 5 points by having a few very good 5 game stretches and unless a team had a terrible first half they will be in range of making the playoffs. Thinking of it in this incremental manner versus the big picture makes the goal of making the playoffs seem much more realistic and achievable despite sitting outside the top 8 at Christmas.