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We're talkin' bout practice?
Creating a better training environment
Nikolai Bernstein is a neurophysiologist and psychologist who made significant contributions to the fields of motor control and movement science. His work laid the foundation for our understanding of how the nervous system controls and coordinates movements in humans.
Every time you do a physical action, a lot is going on both inside and outside your body that can affect that action. Imagine you're playing Hockey and working on your shot. According to Bernstein, every shot you take is a little bit different. Maybe your muscles are a bit more tired, or you're feeling more confident, maybe the puck wasn't lying as flat as the last one, the pass you received was a little harder, there is a little more snow on your blade, your location on the ice is slightly different… there are endless tiny factors that change how you're executing. When I consider this, it makes me think about a concept called “resulting” from Annie Duke, a former World Series poker player. (I will write another post about this interesting concept later on.)
Inside your body, your muscles, nerves, and brain are always adapting and learning. So every time you repeat an action, your body is slightly adjusting and trying to improve. That's why practice helps you get better; your body is learning and adapting with every repetition. Outside your body, there are things like the temperature in the arena, pressure from a coach, pressure from mom or dad, fear of failing in front of your peers etc. that can impact your movements.
Now consider this, what does the typical Hockey practice look like? Predetermined patterns, with the coach telling players what to do, when to do it, and where to go next, regardless of the context of what the individual player perceives. We will get back to this later…
What we strive to enhance is "repetition without repetition" meaning, every single action is a new experience because of all these small changes. It’s like life’s way of saying you never step in the same river twice – every moment, every action is always fresh and new in some way, and this concept has significant implications in areas like Hockey practice and learning new skills.
When we look at a typical team “Hockey practice” or Hockey camp session, it is largely structured around what's called rote repetition. Rote repetition refers to the process of learning or memorizing information by repeating it over and over again without necessarily understanding the meaning or context behind the information. It involves reciting or rehearsing facts or data until they are committed to memory through sheer repetition. While rote repetition can be effective for memorization, it may not promote a deep understanding of the subject matter. It's more about committing information to memory through repetition rather than comprehending the underlying concepts.
Rote repetition has its limitations because it may not facilitate critical thinking or problem-solving skills, and the memorized information may be forgotten relatively quickly if it's not reinforced or applied in a meaningful way. Effective learning typically involves a combination of rote memorization and more interactive and comprehension-based learning techniques to promote a deeper understanding of the material.
If you are familiar with our sessions or practice environment, you can now hopefully better understand what we are doing and why. For those not as familiar, here are some more details:
1. Diverse Drills:
We incorporate a variety of drills that focus on multi-level skills. Even if we are practicing the skill of shooting, the context varies like distance or angle, so each repetition is slightly different and the player must select the right shot in context to the situation. While the player thinks we are working on shooting (which we are) we also have other skills like skating, defending, passing and Hockey sense all built into the drill. They will be learning and enhancing their hockey skills and sense without even knowing it.
2. Changing Environments:
We practice in different conditions and environments to provide a new set of challenges and stimuli. Sometimes we have full pressure, sometimes controlled pressure, sometimes we stack the deck against the puck carrier and make them play 1v2, sometimes we give them 2 teammates to make plays with, sometimes we constrain where they can and cannot go. This places players in situations that are game-like and allows for problem-solving in the context of the game of Hockey.
3. Mental Adaptability:
We encourage a mental focus where players are always thinking and adapting. They should not just be going through the motions but should be mentally engaged, thinking about each movement and how it can be improved. We design things in a way that all players have some objective to fulfill within the drill, even if it looks like they are a byproduct of the drill.
5. Feedback Loop:
We aim to provide feedback in an appropriate way that does not interrupt the learning process, and encourage players to be self-reflective. This will allow them to make micro-adjustments to their techniques and strategies. We ask the players thought-provoking questions, rather than simply providing the answers. This leads to more of a facilitator or co-designer approach, that will develop a player’s Hockey sense and understanding of why they are doing something.
6. Game-like Scenarios:
We constantly Integrate game-like scenarios into practice. These bring in the element of unpredictability and require players to adapt, reflecting the "repetition without repetition" concept.
In all of our sessions, every shot, pass, or skating skill isn’t just a repetition but an opportunity to adapt and improve. Taking into account the constant changes in both the player's body and the external environment. The key is to embrace these variations and use them as learning opportunities to become a more adaptable and skilled hockey player.