Hard Work? Or Focused Intensity?

I absolutely hate vague, non-descriptive, ambiguous phrases in hockey (or in life). None more so than “work harder!”.

I’m a few weeks away from coaching a midget team for a spring tournament, so this post outlines how I plan on approaching the common desire of coaches to tell their team to “work harder”.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of working harder, or hard work. But I see hard work as an antecedent to success. A prerequisite if you will…not the only factor. And if you’re working as “hard” as you can, what exactly does “working harder” look like? (In this article, I refer to reading cues – read this article to understand what I mean by reading cues.)

I find coaches and players use the phrase as a crutch. Listen to interviews in the NHL, or talk to a minor hockey coach who just lost a game, and you’ll likely hear “we just didn’t work hard enough.”

I disagree. I think that very few players give less than 100% effort. You can ask almost any player in a game how hard they think they’re working, and they’ll probably tell you they are trying their hardest. It is so deeply entrenched in our culture, and pressure nowadays is too high on players to not give 100% effort. You might see less than 100% effort the odd time, but in anything above Bantam AAA, I bet that you don’t.

Instead, what you see a failure to read cues, anticipate, and then execute the appropriate skill with full intensity and commitment. What appears to be lack of effort might be a lack of commitment to a play due to uncertainty on the outcome, or uncertainty in a players skill level. What appears to be a lack of effort on a back check might be more that the player doesn’t recognize his responsibility to back check rather than a purposeful lack of effort.

Rather than using the term “hard work”, I plan on using the term “focussed intensity” with my team and with my players.

I think this is a more accurate phrase because a player should be focussed on finding/reading/anticipating the correct cues in a game, and then react to them with full intensity.

Let’s take the back checker as a example: if he reads that a man is his on the back check, he will respond by back checking and tying up his man with full intensity. If he fails to pick up his man due to lack of awareness, he is not focussed. If he does see his man, but doesn’t take the 3 hard strides necessary to catch him, he would not be reacting to his cue with full intensity.

A more skilled player has the interesting effect of making it seem like the player is not working as hard. It looked like Gretzky was completely effortless when he played. This is another reason why the term “hard work” just isn’t suitable. Think of an beer league player versus an NHLer in a one on one battle. Who is going to be working harder? Who is going to be displaying more focused intensity? The NHLer will be so much better at being focused on the correct cues, executing them with full intensity isn’t even necessary. The beer league player will be inappropriately choosing cues, or will be choosing them later, and will try to execute with full intensity. The result is that it will look like the beer league player is working much harder than the NHLer.

Let’s take this to a midget hockey game, where the less skilled, player is applauded for looking like he’s “working hard”. But the skilled player is actually more effective. The skilled player is perceived to be not working as hard because they are more able to efficiently pick up on cues and then execute on them. The less skilled player might inappropriately choose cues, and then have to do more skating or make more decisions to make up for their inappropriately chosen cue, providing outsiders with the perception that they are “working harder”.

I look back to the losing goal in the finals of my midget team last year. The players on my team were working as hard as they could, but a rebound to an unchecked man to the side of the net led to their winning goal. My players were not focussed on picking up a loose man, despite full effort.

So I’m saying:

  • Hard work = pre-requisite for success, not the determinant of success
  • “Focussed intensity” is a better term to use because it is specific and can be more accurately qualified and therefore measured.
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Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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