I was coaching atom players the other day, and I was the assistant coach on the ice so didn’t have complete control over the group. I noticed that many of the young players were not keeping good habits. For example, they were not paying attention to what their sticks were doing during the drill: some had them in the air, some had them flying around out of control, and yet some had them trailing behind them as they skated. Had this been my practice, I would have stopped the drill and made each of the players aware of their stick behaviour. We wouldn’t have moved on until each of the players had perfect stick behaviour during the drill. This may sound extreme, but I consider my role as a coach to be the supreme habit maker.
Mike Babcock said, “Under pressure, everything comes back to basics.”
Consider a well trained golden retriever trick dog. The only difference between that dog and my dog that barely comes when called is trained habits. The two dogs have different baselines for their behaviour based on their trained habits. I might try training my dog for 15 minutes, but she’ll likely go back to her baseline after a bit unless I institute a habit, reinforce it and continualy train it. If I do this until this new habit is ingrained, I have created a new baseline. The highly trained trick dog has had many, many habits ingrained and reinforced, so that dog has a baseline of being an excellent trick dog.
Now consider a strength coach who is teaching an athlete to deadlift. He cues keeping neutral spine while lifting up and putting down a heavy load. He’s doing his best to move the baseline of the athlete towards having a neutral spine in all lifting movements. But then after the workout, the coach watches the athlete pick up his lunch bag from the ground with complete loss of spinal control. Is the coach doing his job if he doesn’t flip out? Absolutely not! The coach’s job is to make sure that the athlete is using neutral spinal posture to safely pick up anything. Safety and performance always go hand in hand with any sort of weight training, so safe lifting posture is also optimal lifting posture. The coaches job is to create a HABIT for the athlete, not to teach the athlete a physical skill he or she will forget.
Consider this: What then, is an NHL player, other than a collection of ingrained excellent habits. This NHL player has a different baseline based on his habits than a Bantam or Midget player. To review what a habit is, it requires a lot of mental energy to ingrain, but once instituted operates with very little effort. So we could say that Patrick Kane has ingrained the habit of excellent stick handling and deception. Pavel Datsyuk has the habits of reading plays faster than his opponents. The Sedins have the habit of impressive saucer passes and anticipating each others’ moves. Can these habits be ingrained by someone else? Absolutely. Give it a shot and pay attention to what habits you are ingraining.