The Confidence of Coaching

How many coaches can you think of that lack self-confidence? How many coaches do you know that publicly show signs of doubt or despair? Not many.

Coaching is a profession built on confidence. As a coach, you have to have confidence in your players, your staff and your team to get the job done every night. You have to have the confidence in yourself to execute your job to the highest level at every opportunity. The confidence that you are doing what is right by everyone involved in your program at any given moment.

Where does this confidence come from? Ultimately, I believe it comes from making decisions, making mistakes and learning from your experiences. Confidence comes from the time spent honing your craft and developing yourself professionally. It builds from those around us – our co-workers, supervisors and mentors. It also comes from within; our own belief in ourself and our ability to overcome obstacles because we have done it in the past.

Does this mean that coaches never lack self-confidence? Absolutely not. I guarantee that anyone who has ever coached has experienced many moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. The confidence you see from coaches doesn’t rule out doubt, it is a reflection of their ability to overcome the negativity and failure and believe in their ability to succeed above all else.

Struggling with confidence? Any good coach has been there. It’s not about never experiencing failure and doubt, it’s about your ability to overcome those thoughts and move ahead with a self-belief stronger than ever.

Confidence comes from having “been there and done that” and sometims you have to “fake it till you make it,” but as the leader of a program, the confidence you exude rubs off on all of the lives you touch on a regular basis. Coach with confidence, knowing you will make the best decision you can with the information you have, using your experience as a guide.

Passing

One of my peers in the coaching world, Jamie Rice (Head Coach, Babson College, @Ricer18), asked on Twitter about hard passes – are they more technique or mindset? It got me thinking about passing in general and the many elements involved.

Passing is both a technical element of the game as well as a skill. It is one of the first things you learn when you start to play hockey and something that you practice for the rest of your career. Technically speaking, the pieces you need to master to give a good pass include hand placement, grip, spin, loft, speed, touch, and timing. To receive a pass, hand placement, grip, touch, and timing are all critical. Of all these areas, spin and speed are the most challenging to master when giving a pass, while grip and touch are the hardest when receiving. 

While these technical areas are important and critical to master, it is my belief that passing is more of a mental skill and habit than a physical one. Because passing is learned at an early stage, it is something that most players take for granted. The assumption is made that passing skills are sufficient and the work done in practice is enough to maintain passing skills. When executing passes, whether in practices or in games, very few players truly focus on the elements of the pass – they merely see their teammate and their muscle memory takes over (similar on the receiving end). The result is often missed passes and poor execution.

How many times in practices do coaches have to make comments or stop practice due to poor passing? It is often not because the players lack the fundamental skills – it is because they take those skills for granted and choose not to focus on the execution. When players shoot, they look for a shooting lane, find their target and attempt to put the best speed on the puck to get the desired result. When passing, I believe this processing piece is far less common. With increased focus comes increased execution.

Now, to answer Coach Rice’s question more directly regarding hard passes. Passing the puck hard is a habit. Habits boil down to the mental skill to execute a physical action. These habits are built through repetition and practice.

As you move up in levels within in the game, time and space becomes less and less readily available. The game becomes more of a cause and effect between two units of five players rather than a pure talent contest. Passing the puck hard (with lots of zip and speed) becomes more of a tactical element at the highest levels. The puck moves faster than your feet, so you can create separation and a change of direction in the defense with hard passes. Whether in the neutral zone on a hinge or a cross ice seam or in the offensive zone on a play to change the point of attack (north/south or east/west) hard passes force the defense to have to react quickly to a new threat. 

Technically speaking, hard passes require a firmer grip from both the passer and receiver. Mentally, they require anticipation and a high level of focus to execute, as a hard pass is more difficult to both give and receive. Once again, the execution of a hard pass is more mental than technical, as it is a conscious focus and effort from one team to move the puck quickly. Passing the puck with good pace is the sign of a focused and determined team that has a good hockey IQ. They understand the value of a hard pass and they are prepared and ready to give and receive passes with zip on the puck. How do you make your team execute passes like this? Attention to detail in practice. Demand hard and firm passes in practice – it will establish the habit and carry over in to games.

I would love to hear from you on this…what do you think? Feel free to comment or tweet at me (@chall4431) Here is Coach Rice’s tweet:

@Ricer18: Interested in coaches thoughts on passing the puck hard/receiving hard passes:

What % technique what % mindset? The best players all do it

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 3 Pass Shooting

3 Pass Shooting

A simple shooting drill with multiple opportunities for passing and receiving. Both lines go at the same time. The first player in each line takes off across the blue line. Near the far dot, they receive a pass from the opposite line and quickly return the puck back to the line they got it from. The player then takes off on a stretch and support pattern through the neutral zone, receiving a pass from the line they started from before heading over the blue line and attacking the net. The same thing is happening on the far side. Across the blue, receive/give a pass, then come back across through the neutral zone to receive a stretch pass and attack the net.

Skills worked here include: passing and receiving with your feet moving, shooting with your feet moving, quick accelerations and change of direction, communication. A great drill to get hands, feet and mouths moving, as well as get some long shots on the goaltenders.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: Q 3v3

Lenny 3v3

A fun 3v3 hockey sense drill. Two nets in one end, both facing the same direction. Teams can shoot at any net. You have to pass to a coach to transition from defense to offense. Coaches can pass to each other as well as be used as an outlet at any time.

This game attempts to help players with their hockey sense and spacing – they need to move away from the puck and have multiple options to attack and defend. Being a man on man game, there is some deception and puck protection involved as well. A great game to use at any point in time during practice, beginning, middle or end.

Special Teams Analytics

I’m fascinated by the use of high level statistics in the NHL. I think it’s a great way to look at the game from a different angle and challenge previously held beliefs that are common in the game.

One example is special teams. Everyone in the hockey world looks at PP and PK% as an indicator of their success. While it is a measure of past success, it is not an accurate indicator of future success. Fear the Fin, a blog about the Sharks did a great job breaking down special teams from an statistics point of view. A fascinating look at the different factors that affect a power play (other than tactics and personnel) or penalty kill and how a team’s success or failure in those situations affects their place in the standings over the course of a season. Check out the full article here. The biggest takeaways for me are in the summary:

Summary Points

  • NHL teams spend a substantial portion of games on special teams. 5v4 time alone accounts for 10-20% of game time, and thus needs to be analyzed to further our prediction models.
  • Although we don’t have enough years of NHL RTSS (5 years and counting) data to conclude with statistical significance, it appears that Fenwick For/60, with misses and blocked shots adjusted for scorer bias, is the best predictor of power-play success (GF/60), and well correlated with winning (Pts/game).
  • The penalty-kill picture is less clear, likely the result of heavier regression to the mean. Presumably the heavier regression is because PK units spend much more time without the puck. Both Sv% (which is likely goaltender driven), and Corsi differential/60 (Corsi For – Corsi Against per 60) are predictive of future penalty kill success (GA/60), and winning (pts/game), but less powerful than the predictors of power-play success.
  • Shooting percentage on the power-play is negligible, regressing heavily to the mean, and shows at best very modest correlations with PP success and winning. Even if we attempt to attenuate Sh% (ie. control for how much it regresses to the mean), it still under-performs other more significant metrics like FF/60.
  • If we focus on which stat in theory has the strongest association with PP success (GF/60), we see that Fenwick For per 60 and Shots For per 60 are virtually indistinguishable. On the PK, however, Sv% becomes the strongest stat.

Looking a little closer at PP and PK is the Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey. In two articles, they dig into PP and PK and how you can look at future success for each of them. Their bottom line conclusion? PP success is indicated by shot rate while PK success is a little simpler, with just conversion rate. You can check out the PP article here: http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2011/5/22/2178537/zone-entries-what-drives-power-play-success and the PK article here: http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2011/5/14/2170957/what-makes-a-good-special-teams-unit.

What drove me to read these articles? A very interesting piece on TSN’s Analytics Blog by Travis Yost going into the details of Tampa Bay’s success at even strength and their relative weakness on special teams. Tampa has a power play that is clicking around 20% of the time and a PK that is successful about 85% of the time. Pretty good, no? Well looking deeper, they actually have a shot differential of -35.7 per 60 minutes of special teams play. What the article argues is that their current success rates are unsustainable based upon their shot differential. It will be interesting to see what happens moving forward with Tampa’s special teams units. You can find that article here: http://www.tsn.ca/special-teams-a-prime-concern-for-lightning-1.227049

My takeaways from these articles and insights into statistics? Well it also passes the “eye test” with hockey. Want to have a successful power play? It comes from shots. Shots come from faceoff wins and puck retrievals in the offensive zone. Want to have a successful penalty kill? A good goaltender goes a long way – as does limiting the quality of shots against. Finally, you can look at analytics to see if your success on special teams is due to random events or methodical success through statistical trends.

I’ll be honest, as a history major in college I never took a stats class and I couldn’t tell you what the actual equations and statistical work means. However, I trust that you need that data to prove your points and that the greater analytics community would immediately invalidate any argument that doesn’t pass the statistical data test. I try not to get too lost in the math but instead interpret the numbers and determine what they mean and what the effect on the game might be.

The Offseason

The Offseason. A long period of unstructured time.  A time when the best separate themselves from the rest.

Anyone can work and grow under pressure. People rise to the occaision and stay focused on their goals in an environment of deadlines and pressure.

Not may can operate at their highest level with no pressure. It’s easier to take a longer lunch or stop and chat with friends when you’re not under pressure. The project you’re working on can happen tomorrow. There is no urgency to what you’re working on right now. Your workout is intense but not that hard. You procrastinate or delay a little longer than you might in a deadline environment.

The people and players that reach the highest levels – they are the ones that can push themselves beyond their own boundaries and create pressure when very little might otherwise exist.

The offseason is all about the principles that make you successful during the year. Discipline. Compete Level. Work Ethic. It’s easy to do these things during the season when everyone is playing attention. The best do these things day in and day out – they become a habit and a way of life.

Wednesday Drill of the Week: 1/2 Ice 2v0 Progression

2v0 Half Ice Progression

A simple but high paced warm up drill. X1 (green) and X2 (red) bump and exchange with F1. F1 then bumps the puck to F2 while X1 and X2 jump onside (always facing the puck – mohawk). X1 and X2 receive a pass from F2 and then attack the net 2v0 – look for a pass off the far pad with a hard net drive. F2 then jumps in line, F1 becomes F2 and whoever shot the puck becomes F1.

There are three progressions to the drill. First – after bumping the puck to the attacking 2v0, F2 can then backcheck the two forwards. Put pressure on them from behind and attempt to breakup the play (you can designate F2 to backcheck the puck or the man, based on your backchecking system).

The second progression is to have F1 gap up and play the two attackers in a 2v1 – if F1 is a forward then he/she angles the puck carrier, if F1 is a D then he/she should have a good stick and play it as they would a 2v1 rush. In this scenario, after each rep, F2 becomes F1 and a new player from the line fills the role of F2.

The third progression is to have F1 gap up and F2 backcheck, creating a tight area 2v2 situation – the defending players have to communicate, identify and sort it out quickly on the rush.

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