I want to present a conceptual model of what “Hockey Sense” is. Then, I’ll explore how to improve your game using the model as a basis for improvement.
This is a model that Jeff Compton and I have developed. We both use this model when considering what approach to take in training the hockey players that we are working with.
- Tactical Goal: The player’s awareness of the tactical goal he or she should aim to achieve in any given scenario. For example, a winger receiving a pass on the half-wall in their defensive zone has the tactical goal of moving the puck over the blueline and out of their zone.
- Awareness: This is the physical and mental ability to sense (using your senses) where your options are, and where the defenders are. Factors that affect a player’s awareness can be very simple and easy to recognize (such as having the head up, or having appropriate head movement), or they can be very subtle and hard to identify (such as eye posture and movement, multiple object tracking ability, short term memory). An example of this would be a defenseman wheeling around the net and being able to identify his options, where they are going, along with the defenders, and where they are going. His ability to identify these options, and then correctly anticipate where they are all moving will define is Awareness ability in the hockey sense conceptual model.
- Decision: This factor takes into account the information that the player has received from the previous two steps (Tactical Goal and Awareness), and then has the requirement that the player must make an effective decision based on that information. If the information that the player receives/interprets from the first two steps is inaccurate or of poor quality, the player will not be able to make an effective decision. (Think of a player who thinks he is on the penalty kill but is actually in a four on four scenario. His mistake of identifying the tactical goal results in a poor decision. – Or a player who incorrectly reads/anticipates whether a defender is pinching on his outlet and then passes that outlet the puck, getting the pass picked up in the process…this is a breakdown in the Awareness phase, and this leads to a poor quality decision.)
- Execute: Once the player has made a decision, it is up to the player to execute the skill required for the desired outcome. The more skill that a player possesses, the easier it will be for them to execute the skill that they Decided upon.
- Outcome: This is the outcome of the skill execution: what we see as a coach, player, or fan…the result. So if the player makes an excellent read and is a great passer, we may see a great tape to tape pass. Or if the player has a poor shot and receives a one-timer pass, we may see a poor or missed attempt at shooting. Finally, we may see a player who has an excellent shot, gets a fantastic opportunity to score, is in the middle of executing the skill, and the puck takes an unforeseen bounce in the ice, and the puck goes wide.
- (Back to) the Tactical Goal: No matter what the outcome (good, bad, neutral), the player must then reorient to the outcome of the scenario and go through the Hockey Sense Loop again, starting with acquiring the awareness of the Tactical Goal from his memory banks.
I believe that breaking down Hockey Sense in this way allows us to pinpoint the areas a player needs to improve the most in order to continue developing and to get to the next level. It allows us to use a specific language that can identify problems in a players game.
The Best Players
The best players in the game (think NHL), would possess a great Hockey Sense Loop. The two ways of looking at their loop which would indicate their greatness are what I call depth and speed.
- Speed: The speed of their hockey sense loop allow them to make decisions (effectively) and execute them at a faster pace than players with slower Hockey Sense loops.
- Depth: Each factor in the hockey sense loop is deeper. By this, I mean that a player with a deeper hockey sense loop might have more experience playing, so might have more potential tactical goals he could execute than a less experienced players (I’d call that CREATIVITY). Or that player may be able to take in more information than a player with a shallower Hockey Sense Loop. Or that player may be able to execute more skills than a player with a shallower Loop.
How to Develop the Factors
We can now examine how to develop the various factors of the Hockey Sense Loop. We will be able to see that some of these factors’ developmental needs are already being met by current hockey training programs, but we’ll also be able to identify which ones are lacking developmental programs.
- Tactical Goal: Good coaches cover this aspect of a player’s development. Ways to improve a player’s ability to quickly and correctly generate tactical goals might be to have them watch video of themselves play and to watch more tactically proficient players play. Another way that is less common amongst coaches, but very effective is to provide the players with specific cues to watch for and explain to them how they should react to those cues.
- Awareness: This is an area that has little to no current development opportunities! If we follow the rules in Progressive Overload we know that we need to systematically and incrementally stress something in the body to have it improve and develop. Most coaches do not want their players making mistakes, so shy away from drills that push their perceptual (awareness) comfort zones. There are drills that you can do to increase a player’s ability to read options, track defenders, and monitor everyones trajectory with accuracy. Most of these drills require multi-puck training, overloaded defenders, or extra cues to react to. Other ways to increase variables that will improve a player’s on-ice awareness are to invest in or explore some of the cognitive training programs that are out there. These programs develop your brain’s ability to do things like multiple object tracking, obstacle avoidance, collision timing anticipation, and improve on your short-term (or working) memory. Examples of these programs include Intelligym and Cognisens.
- Decision: I think that this is a product of the first two factors. As such, training those first two factors will result in improved decision making. However, I think that decision making can be improved when players focus on “practicing how you play” so that they make their decisions when they practice HABITS. These habits will be reinforced through practice and manifest in game scenarios.
- Execute: This is the area of the Hockey Sense Loop that has the most development opportunities. Developing the physical capacity to play hockey (strength, power, balance, quickness, mobility, etc.) is the job of a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach. They are a dime a dozen. While average S&C coaches litter the field, it can be difficult to find a good trainer…but nonetheless, physical development opportunities are everywhere. The other aspect of the ability to execute is skill. Skill coaches are also everywhere, although a little more sparsely than S&C coaches, mostly because the presumption is that your skill coach needs to be able to execute the skills that they are teaching you. Nevertheless, skill and physical development opportunities are not hard to find.
For you as a hockey player or parent, this means that would want to be more selective about how you are spending your resources.
Your most scarce resource in hockey career development is Time and Energy. I’m going to call it Tenergy. You only have a very fixed amount of Tenergy and it cannot be renewed. Sometimes people can improve the amount of Tenergy they have by being efficient and healthy eaters/sleepers/etc..but it really is a finite supply that every has a similar amount of. The other resource that you have is money, which can be scarce or abundant depending on your situation. Needless to say, you don’t want to squander Tenergy or money. (More on Tenergy later)
If we know that we have these very scarce resources, you obviously want to use them in the most beneficial way possible. So by using the Hockey Sense Model, you can do a needs analysis of your hockey development, and figure out where your need to spend your Tenergy.
Many people make the mistake of getting into excellent shape (beep test of 14, squat 400lbs, bench 300lbs, clean 300lbs), then continuing to pour all their development Tenergy into getting in even better shape. They should instead do a needs analysis, based on the Hockey Sense model, and then figure out where their Tenergy could be better spent.
As I said before, the physical and skill development market is already crowded and when players and parents think of developing their hockey career, those are the first two things that come to mind. But be mindful and purposeful in your hockey career development and determine where you can BEST spend your Tenergy.