If I had to start over today, where I would start? June 2015 Edition

Recently, I’ve been in discussions with people that I’m teaching, and they ask me “where did you get all this from?” I tend to shake my head, confused, because I don’t really know where I “got it all from”. I can usually point to the most recent people who have influenced my thought, or those with the most radical thoughts, but after that it’s all a blur of interconnecting information. Where did I start? When I was 12, I started with Peter Twist and his book, “Complete Conditioning for Ice Hockey”. I learned about carbohydrates, and plyometrics. I learned that Pavel Bure wasn’t fast, but had great acceleration. I subsequently went to Twist’s camps and trained using his system. Then when I was 16, for some reason, I decided I needed to learn more. So I went to the Chapters and into the “Sport” Section, and bought about $160 dollars worth of books: Agility Training, Boompa’s Periodization for Sport, Michael Boyle’s Functional Training for Young Athletes and Dr. Michael Colgan’s book on training. I’d say I actually did a pretty good job. Then I did my BCRPA Personal Trainer’s certification which involved a bunch of basic physiology and anatomy learning. After that point is when things start to get blurry. I started learning more and more, faster and faster, from disparate sources. I remember a few inflection points: one where I thought sport specific training methodology was the only methodology athletes should follow, then my perspective was bombarded by a Power Lifting makes you a better athlete perspective, then another where I began to consider the concept of general movement quality. Then, finally, my degree at UBC got interesting, and I began to consider the finer points of exercise physiology and functional anatomy. The next courses that made an impact were a cellular and molecular muscular physiology course, and a neuromechanics of human movement course. Finally rounding things out, was a student directed seminar I coordinated where a number of students got together and discussed current topics in the strength and conditioning field. Having the benefit of going through that winding, and confusing road for the past 13 years allows me to see where I could have shortcuted a few things, and gotten straight to the point in a few important areas. Along my road, there were times when it took considerable amounts of time and mental effort to sort through the very different perspectives of say Sport Specific training methodology and Power Lifting for athletic performance methodology. I know now the resources that can explain the differences and points of agreement between the two perspectives. So what are those resources? Where should you start? Well, there’s no perfect route. But I’m going to list a few resources in no particular order to sift through.

1. Pavel Tsatsouline (StrongFirst) Is Pavel perfect? No. But he distills very complex training principles into simple writings that are accessible to anyone. He also covers almost all bases when it comes to training, conditioning, core training, flexibility, and mobility. I would first look at “Power to the People” or “Easy Strength”. Specific to easy strength is the idea of the Four Quadrants, which helps sort out how you should view your training, resolving the “Sport Specific vs Powerlifting” dilemma I mentioned earlier.

2. Dr. Kelly Starrett (MobilityWOD) Now, is Kelly perfect? Nope. Are a lot of people going to disagree with him? Yes. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that he was a CrossFit guy. But his website is rife with knowledge gold nuggets on human movement, “adaptation errors” and how to fix them, posture, breathing, and mobility.

3. Dr. Stuart McGill Owner of the best moustache in the field, Dr. McGill ushered in the “core training” era. However, as many trainers do, they have watered down his concepts with their own bullshit. If you want to go straight to the source, and also understand “injury mechanisms” of the lower back, this is where you should start.

4. The Basics

No specific resource here. But know your anatomy and basic physiology. Like really know it. Buy yourself a couple of textbooks and learn. Sit down with them seriously.

You should also have a good understanding of neuromechanics of human movement and neural adaptations. I suggest Enoka’s Neuromechanics of Human Movement if you’re serious. It will dive deeper into many of the concepts explored by Pavel in his works.

Breath & posture: With its Eastern connotations, this may be seen as woowoo, but I promise at having a clear understanding of breath and posture leads to a clear understanding of movement through tension and relaxation. Here are a couple of resources: breathing and posture.

Periodization: Overtraining does exist. So does under training. The idea of periodization is to walk the fine line between the two. Start with Tudor Boompa’s work, and then explore other types: cybernetic, vertical integration, etc..

Recovery: Stay away from gimmicks at the start, and focus on the principles of recovery. People get caught up the muscular components of recovery, which are important, but I suggest that you should start with learning about the autonomous nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Look up and learn about heart rate variability and the vagus nerve.

5. Charlie Francis Ben Johnson’s trainer has also received his fair share of criticism. But I like his approach to conditioning and speed development.

6. Instagram Follow: Gymnastic Bodies, Dr. Andreo Spina, Rob Blackwell, Cal_Strength, UBC Strength & Conditioning.

In between selfies, and filtered skylines, make yourself better by following some useful Instagram accounts. Many of these accounts have good learning suggest in their posts. They’ll also provide links to other resources.

7. Psychology/Mindset “Mindset” by Caroline Dweck and “Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. Start there if you haven’t already done so. I won’t say any more.

8. Ido Portal Not because I can do any of the wild and crazy movements he teaches, but because his way of thinking is a refreshing take on humanity and what we’re actually doing in the training environment.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s where I would start today. If I had to start over, I would want my perspectives to be coloured by the ideas found on this list.

Elite Athletes can control their body temperature at will – you can too!

I used to jokingly tell people that “elite athletes can control their body temperature at will” all the time when they complained of being hot or cold. I’m pretty sure I picked it up from my uncle Ken (Founder of 4th Dimension Hockey School). 

Even though I would say this jokingly, I always considered that it was a real possibility. I’d heard the urban myths of Yogis or Taoist monks meditating under waterfalls or whatever, so I figured it must be physically possible. 

Enter Wim Hof: I started hearing about him on the (obviously) Tim Ferriss podcast, and then listened to him on the Ben Greenfield podcast. His idea is interesting, which is that ordinary people can tap into and control their autonomous nervous system, thus controlling their body temperature, but also hastening healing. He also claims that his method vastly improves performance. 

I’ve also started taking cold showers regularly which I find invigorating in the morning, and helps me sleep at night. So I consider the possibility that his breathing technique and method could be legit. I’m sharing in case some of my readers want to find out. I’m experimenting with parts of the technique myself. 

See here for his breathing technique. 

See here for the Wim Hof Method.

Thoughts and Links for the Weekend – Lifestyle Training, Word Choices, Complaining, and Schedules

Here are some thoughts and links for the weekend to consider.

Effort applied over time (work) is something that Dan Millman (author of the Way of the Peaceful Warrior) extols in this podcast. So it had me thinking about ways that I do little things that add up over time. What little things can I add or change to make a big difference over time? Here are the resources I found, and here’s what popped into my head.

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham

The idea that the Maker, or the creative can have their creativity completely compromised if they have to adhere to a manager’s schedule. The manager’s schedule includes the idea of meetings, hourly scheduling and pragmatic planning. The maker, when faced with mid day meetings will avoid starting hard or ambitious projects if they know they have an impending meeting. On the other hand, when the maker is left unperturbed for an entire day, they are more likely to start projects that are difficult or ambitious. This blog post and research came from purposefully putting myself on the maker’s schedule. I removed myself from my normal day to day routine, and as such my mind expanded and asked questions like it rarely does when I know I have a group I need to train later in the day.

10 Most Common Words to Avoid by Tim Ferriss

I wanted to write an article on this a while back, but then I realized Tim already did it for me. I believe that speaking precisely requires precise thought. When thought is precise, rather than vague, goals and objectives can be clearly defined and more easily met. Two words to add to the list (inspired by Jeff Compton…and Laird Hamilton) are “try” and “can’t”. Tim’s words to avoid are vague and inspire judgment. Using the word “try” gives the user subconscious permission to fail at whatever they’re doing. Using the term “I haven’t yet” instead of “can’t” implies that effort and practice are required to achieve something, rather than it being impossible to achieve.

Ask Why Three Times by Jason Zook

To get to the root of difficult question, ask why three times. I find that athletes we train, and those we don’t, make decisions without much thought. They do so based on superficial variables; on how things seem rather than how they are. Many athletes will turn aside training opportunities with reasons like “I don’t have enough time”, “it’s too expensive”, or “I have schoolwork”. Asking why three times as described in the article may help to uncover the root of why someone is passing up opportunities and what they can do to instead take advantage of them. It also allows athletes to consider how they are spending their time.

Lifestyle Cardio

I always wonder about athletes, or people, who seemingly put in close to no effort with their training, but still have excellent cardiovascular endurance. I think part of it has to do with early training stimulus (sensitive period for cardio training), and genetics. But I also think it has something to do with lifestyle. As a rational S&C coach, my goal would be to control what I can control. And I could mostly control the work done by my athletes while they are under my supervision. But if the other 23 hours of the day, the athlete is engaged in counterproductive activities to their training, even the best designed program is useless. Obviously, strength & conditioning coaches then encourage their athletes to engage in optimal lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep, eating well, etc.. What if coaches could also get athletes to improve their athletes’  cardiovascular training by adding a lifestyle cardiovascular component. i.e. meditative/refreshing jogs with natural sprints (Fartlek/Bruce Lee style), encourage thinking of manual labor positively, and do more low intensity exercise. Since I’ve stopped doing manual labor as my primary means of income like I did when I was younger, I am on the lookout for more ways to add methods of improving my cardiovascular fitness by adding lifestyle components, not included in my training. For example, Bruce Lee would explore a new city with a light jog first thing upon getting to that city. What habits could I set for myself like this? What habits could I suggest for my athletes?

Complaining and Blaming

The idea that complaining and blaming was destructive to our mental health was something I accepted. But after watching the video linked above, what stood out to me, was that when someone blames/complains, they are using up energy that should be used to hold the person/situation you are complaining/blaming accountable. Essentially, by complaining, you are making the situation worse for yourself psychologically, and also pragmatically because you don’t have as much energy to address the problem. Interesting thoughts.

Enjoy!

Jason

What We’re Doing this Summer with Our Hockey Player and Why

Yesterday, I volunteered at my old high school to instruct some PE classes. Then I went to the gym and instructed our elite hockey players.

In both situations, I found myself explaining the same thing: cardio and interval training does not improve strength & power.

I found this odd. In my mind, it is ridiculously obvious that fatiguing your body is not the best way to increase speed and power. But obviously there is a disconnect between what I think is obvious, and what a younger generation thinks is obvious. This post is to address that disconnect:

The Path

In my mind, I have constructed a logic chain on how to develop strength and power that looks something like this:

  1. Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns. These proper movement patterns should:
  2. Teach the athlete to be able to handle more load with proper movement patterns
  3. Teach athletes to move loads at higher speed, maintaining correct movement patterns
  4. Develop an athlete’s capacity to handle high loads, at high speed, while under fatigue

I find that athletes and parents associate fatigue, intensity and volume with workout value. Here’s the thing: anybody who can yell at athletes is capable of making people fatigued and sweaty. And yes, there is a chance that said person is going to develop the strength and power of their athlete. If they are really lucky, they’ll inherit an athlete with great movement mechanics and great work capacity, and that athlete will respond to that training, and will then go on to do well in fitness testing…thus “proving” the efficacy of the fatiguing, high intensity workout. The huge problem with this (and I know, because I’ve previously been the coach to prescribe high-intensity, fatiguing workout after high-intensity, fatiguing workout), is that the players who don’t move well and are not able to adapt to the increased workload, well, they get left behind. They just “aren’t working as hard as those other guys”.

If we go back and look at point #1 (Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns), there is a new challenge for coaches with today’s athletes. I have noticed that there are less and less multi-sport, natural athletes. As a result, I’m inheriting athletes who might be excellent hockey players, but lack BASIC HUMAN MOVEMENT. The main problems I see with young hockey players is that their hips are so tight, that they have to their knees and spine to generate their movement. Of course, the hips are capable of generating much more power than both the knee joint and the spinal muscles combined, so players with tight hips are leaving a lot of strength and power generation on the table if they are not correctly moving their hips. And simply put, we cannot train the athletes to properly move their hips if they do not have the mobility to do so.

Someone might tell me that by doing squats, deadlifts and lunges you can fix this problem. I’d agree, but only if the athletes are doing squats, deadlifts and lunges like they are meant to be performed by the body. Again, the tight hips often prevent squats, deadlifts and lunges from being performed properly, so the body learns and reinforces sloppy movement mechanics. Under fatigue, this problem gets even worse because the body is already not using its most effective and efficient muscles, so now those muscles start failing and recruiting even less effective and efficient muscles.

For me, I cannot in any sort of good faith condone or prescribe consistent workouts that do not first address movement quality. I believe it would be negligent of me to do so. Of course, I do not believe that athletes should not be placed in challenging and fatiguing situations to prepare them for camps. But this type of work should be done with conscious attention towards minimizing risk, and it does not need to be done all the time. Furthermore, I of course believe in developing a high aerobic and anaerobic capacity in our athletes, but there are more effective ways of improving that specific capacity than running them into the ground every day.

Measurement and Value

Like I mentioned, fatigue is often associated with the value of a workout. Let’s please change that.

I can understand that void of any other metric, valuing a workout by the amount of fatigue it generates is a very reasonable thing to do. And I can also imagine that if a trainer is not actually wanting to put a lot of thought into how their workouts make on ice contributions, then they’ll want you to think that fatigue is a useful value measuring stick.

What metrics actually matter? Some will say that a strength and conditioning coach should only worry about the fitness variables they can effect. So they will tell you they have improved the athlete if they improved their squat weight, their bench weight, their clean weight, their broad jump, and some measure of aerobic capacity. Others use those metrics as well, but also consider their role to be to help the athlete in their sport. They may take a bit of emphasis off of the bench, squat, clean, jump and VO2, and spend a bit more time and effort trying to translate or transfer the skills to the sport.

I fall into the second camp. Not radically so. I believe that improvements in athletic movement principles (needed for hockey) will manifest themselves in improved lifts, jumps, sprints, and aerobic tests. Therefore, those tests may provide an indicator as a proxy for improved sport performance. The reason that I fall into the second camp is because I am in (what I think is) a fairly unique position of having almost amassed my 10,000 coaching hours (I’ve been coaching for about the last 9 years consistently) and also having amassed my 10,000 hockey playing hours, meanwhile I’ve studied Kinesiology. Because I am also continuing to play while doing all this, I’d say that I am very in touch with the process of what it takes to get better. I’ve made committed almost every mistake by enthusiastically following every person who has a claim that they can help improve my game. I have ruthlessly thrown aside any and every method that does not provide immediate and lasting results. I’m also 100% in touch with the demands of the athlete, and the psychology of the athlete. So I remember the days when I crushed a fatiguing workout, went to the farm to work and pushed a lawn mower and carried a weed whacker and didn’t have time or energy to develop my skills. I remember dropping 400lbs on my back in a back squat with incorrectly adjusted spot arms and no spotter. I remember lunging around my backyard with a friend (who never worked out with me again), for 2 hours, and then not being able to walk for a week (my mom literally carried me up and down the stairs…embarrassing for a 12 year old).

After almost 20 years of hockey, I’ve realized that the most valuable physical skills I learned were actually very different than what a strength & conditioning coach might suggest. They are:

  • Not to tense up in pressure situations.
  • Not to “try” too hard. Give 100% intensity instead.
  • Not to tense muscles that are not immediately involved in performing the skill.
  • Generate and receive contact through the core.
  • Learn to generate elasticity through the core on shots and passes.
  • Don’t bend your knees too much, use your hips to generate power.
  • Under fatigue, stay calm, breathe deeply.
  • Correct posture (shoulders, pelvic alignment, ribcage alignment) matters as much to physical performance as it does to psychological performance.

All of these things are movement quality related. They were sprinkled throughout my career, with many of them only coming into crystal clear focus very recently. Disappointing, then, that all the fatiguing workouts I did never taught me those things. Some I learned when I used to play the violin, others I learned through martial arts, golf and soccer. A few teammates have given me pointers on others. The rest I learned by researching information  from the best minds in sports and strength and conditioning.

Of course, I’m now also blessed with great aerobic capacity, strength and power. While these occurred as a result of my training, I still believe that my training was not the most efficient way of improving all of those things. For example, I learned that I didn’t actually need to lift as much volume as I thought I did. I also wish I had adopted a different running style when I was back racing, as that would have made running so much more enjoyable. In any case, all of this was a valuable learning experience because I can now do a lot more with a lot less time and energy.

So what are we doing this summer? We are trying to boil down 20 years of my enthusiastic pursuit of excellence through training into one summer. We are drawing the straightest line through the sand. I’m hoping it can help everyone we are training get better faster.

Principles before Plays – My Philosophy of Learning, Teaching, Coaching

Specific plays, memorization for studying, adopting fads, copying people… these all have one thing in common, and I think it holds most people back.
In Joshua Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning”, he describes making smaller and smaller circles. This means that he would rather learn one skill deeply to internalize its principles, rather than learn many skills just to show off. Bruce Lee also said, “I fear not the man who practived 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who practiced 1 kick 10,000 times.” The idea behind these statements is that understanding principles trumps other types of learning.
My first foray into principles based learning was in my second semester of my second year at UBC. My first year, I followed my high school dogma that most of my fellow students also seemed to be following: memorize everything! The question always was: how am I supposed to know everything in this textbook for the final?? However the word “know” is most often thought of as “memorize”, so most students are really asking: how am I supposed to memorize everything in this textbook for the final. That semester, I took an economics course from a professor who was known to have very challenging exams. His exams were abstract, and he’d ask questions like, “Joe believes in the Sun God. Explain why Joe should not believe in the Sun God.” Then, he would provide a whole page for an answer. This proved very troublesome for a student who had memorized terms and graphs in order to study for the test. That was, until I went to look at an old midterm to see how it was marked. What I learned that day changed my approach to education and life.
The way that those questions were marked, was by checking to see if the student had written down three principles. The prof called them “Brainwave Principles”. That’s it. Three principles. No page long ramblings…three simple principles. A student only had to write three lines to get full marks on a ten mark question.
I then realized, that he had 12 “Brainwave Principles” in his textbook, and that you could answer every question by applying those 12 principles. If I truly understood those 12 principles, I understood the whole book. I tested this on my next exam in his class and aced it. Specifically, I knew what Principle applied to what question, and I was able to explain that in my answer.
My second brush with principles based learning was after listening to this Ted Talk with Elon Musk. In it, he talks about using First Principles based reasoning to come up with his ideas for business. He said that reasoning by analogy is just like copying everyone else. But when you copy everyone else, you follow their same thought pattern and therefore see limitations where they see limitations. By instead boiling everything down to first principles, Elon claims that he has been able to see the problem from a completely different perspective and is therefore able to examine if the perceived limitations of an idea are in fact true. This talk inspired me to dive deeper into the idea of First Principles reasoning.
Finally, after talking with a teammate, he mentioned how some of the really intelligent students in his program didn’t need to study for their courses, because they DERIVED their answers. They completely understand the principles behind the questions that a prof is asking, and therefore are able to piece together how to answer. In contrast, students who memorize answers to questions have trouble answering those questions if they are presented slightly differently than what they expect. They are less flexible, and their knowledge if more fragile. Meanwhile, a student who understands principles is flexible and robust because they can answer any iteration of a question testing their knowledge of a principles.
I then purposefully aimed to make my studying more principles based. The process looked something like this:
  • Understand the terminology so that I could understand the language of the concepts, the principles, and the problems
  • Aim to understand the overarching principles of the subject at hand
  • Aim to have a working knowledge of the concepts inherent within those principles
  • Enjoy my free time!
I applied this process to all of my courses. I was able to study much less…meanwhile, my marks actually went up. Why? Because I internalized the principles and it was easier for me to bring forth information in test taking scenarios. Because my knowledge represented a deep understanding of the principles on which the question was based, I could answer any type of question about that principle because all I had to do was apply it. On the other hand, memorized information was always more fragile because if I took in too much information, there was a chance it would be crowded. Also, without any sort of association, it’s fairly easy for your memorized information to go POOF in a test taking scenario. Principles based learning creates associations.
Strength & Conditioning
How this translates to strength and conditioning is just that…through translation. Coaches (myself included) often get bent out of shape over what exercise, modality, intensity, volume, etc etc, is best for training. In my eyes, it simply doesn’t matter. If we accept that the goal of strength and conditioning is to improve sport performance, then we’d also probably agree that sport performance can be improved when athletes can completely express themselves physically, in their sport, without hindrance of any kind. This usually translates to the idea of effectively and efficiently using the body in a coordinated and controlled manner to express force. To do so, the athlete should have internalized various movement principles. Things like: holding tension through the core while under load in order to stabilize the spine, mobile joints should be mobile and stabilizing joints should be stabile, be able to dissociate different parts of your body smoothly, etc.. Therefore, the idea that athletes “must train this way” is absolute bogus. A coach who is saying “all athletes should squat and lift heavy”, is really probably saying that “athletes should be able generate lot’s of force into the ground, and hold tension through their core to maintain a neutral spine while doing so.” I think that there are principles of movement that athletes must master in order to perform in their sport optimally. With those in mind, I aim to find the most effective way to train those movement principles. A mistake that coaches make is that they think “these drills are good for hockey”  because it looks sport specific and then end their thinking there. If those drills do not lead to an improvement in hockey performance through skill translation, those drills are a waste of time. But if those drills lead to some sort of translation (let’s say, increased ability to generate lateral force, and increased control and power in the hips in certain movements), then those drills are useful. The key is translation of athletic/movement principles, not mimicry of sport movement in non-sport contexts.
The strength coach should therefore understand what movement principles their athletes can develop that will translate to their performance. Then the strength coach should explore the best way to instruct and implement those principles into an athletes training program. Instructing exercises for the sake of instructing exercises, or improving numbers on lifts for the sake of improving numbers of lifts is absolutely useless unless an athlete can translate a skill or ability to generate force to their sport. So improving a squat does nothing for the athlete unless it now allows the athlete to learn to hold more tension in their core to keep themselves stable and put more force into the ground. If the athlete has increased their squat weight without actually improving in their sport, the squat was a waste of time for the athlete.
Hockey Coach
This also translates to being a hockey coach. When coaching, I’ve struggled with teaching plays to my players because I found that those plays would often fall apart when the players entered a game. If I’m particularly good at constructing clever players, and if the players are good enough to execute them, I may get a quick win. But as soon as another team figures out those plays, if all the players have previously relied upon was the plays, they are now standing on one leg. If instead, the players are taught principles, the players can adapt their play to the situation that meets them. Like a student who has internalized principles of a subject versus memorization, the player who has internalized important principles in hockey is more flexible and robust to any situation. This creates an empowered player and team who have the trust of the coach to solve their own problems.
The coach should aim to teach principles that will lead to the biggest effect in a team’s game. I do not think that chipping the puck out, or dumping and forechecking are good concepts to be preaching. Both of those concepts teach the principle of chasing. I think that passing and possession are principles that coaches should be aiming to teach. If I teach the principles of passing, support, and creating triangles, then if a specific play isn’t working, but the players are flexible in finding their solutions, the players are more adaptable, and the team is more likely to succeed.
Ideally a coach would ask themselves what principles they should teach in order to get a desired outcome. Not, what play or action should they teach. For example, a coach struggling with the breakout could either: a) tell their players not to make turnovers and to chip the puck out or b) teach their players principles of making plays to exit the zone. Similarly, a hockey player struggling with stick handling can: a) try to pick apart each aspect of their stick handling that they are deficient in and try to train each piece or b) figure out the principles of puck control on a deeper level – for example, posture and relaxation. A student should look at the principles and concepts taught my their teacher and aim to understand them completely rather than memorize every word in the book.
I’m aiming to improve my ability to use principles based learning, teaching and coaching. I hope this has inspired you to do the same.

Guest Post: LIVE your Hockey Career by Ilan Cumberbirch

The purpose of this blog is to get unfiltered, beyond the basics, REAL information to younger players who can make use of it. It was with this in mind that I’ve asked various teammates, past and present, to write some guest blog posts for me. As a young player, I constructed my knowledge of what a hockey career looks like from stories. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have access to stories of players going into college when I was PeeWee, because I didn’t know anyone doing that. If you don’t have a personal connection with someone at a different part of their hockey career than you, you really only have access to the stories your teammates tell you. I’m happy that there are more articles coming out online that provide younger players and less experienced parents with information and stories that can inform their path.

It is kind of daunting to throw your ideas out onto the world wide web for all to see and appraise, so I haven’t had any takers on the guest post, until now…

Enter Ilan Cumberbirch:

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Ilan, Cumby, Cumbario, is a close friend of mine and was my teammate at UBC for my first three years as a Thunderbird. He is known for his humour, big personality, and big heart…oh and probably his hair. He has written a post on how to LIVE your hockey career. Ilan is on a similar path to my own in that he is pursuing, what for most, appears to be an unclear career path as a hockey/strength and conditioning coach. Ilan is smart, graduating from UBC with a B.Sc in Kinesiology. What I like about this post is that it incorporates stories of his own struggles and uses it to suggest solid advice to players at any point of their career. It’s also impressive that he is able to expose himself with confidence and candor, while maintaining his humour and charm.

Thanks to Ilan, Enjoy!

LIVE your Hockey Career

I am currently sitting at my living room table in Geleen, Netherlands, listening to a Tim Ferris podcast, baking a sweet potatoe for my pregame meal, and contemplating how to begin my first ever blog post.

I’ve been toying with this since Jason asked me a couple weeks ago, contemplating how to approach it, from what perspective will be most relative for the reader, and how my life in hockey can be of some sort of literary stimulation and (hopefully) entertainment to you the reader…. Much like my hockey career; I’m diving in head first, unknowing what the outcome may be or how it will conclude.

My position in the game of hockey has been relatively diverse. Since the age of 5 I have been a student of the game, being taught by some of the most knowledgeable, and arguably some of the least knoweldgeable “teachers” of the game. I played my minor hockey for the Vancouver Thunderbirds Minor Hockey Association (VTMHA), which at the time was not known for being a hockey powerhouse by any means. Garnering the majority of their players from the west side of Vancouver, to most, hockey was considered a recreational activity to be played until it was time to “grow up” “get serious” and pursue some form of high eduation. Having said that, I grew up with a relatively unique demographic of kids, many of whom I’m still good friends with today, many of whom are highly successful individuals in worlds far removed from hockey.

Continue reading Guest Post: LIVE your Hockey Career by Ilan Cumberbirch

The Great Wave of Analytics – What is the crest?

I’ve read two books recently (“The Rise of Superman” and “Smart Cuts”), that talked about surfing. So that’s probably what has me using a wave metaphor to discuss the what is happening right now in hockey, in relation to analytics.

Not long ago, analytics were once the crest of the wave. Just last year, analytics were discussed on TSN, CBC, and Sportsnet in a flippant fashion. In the first few NHL talk shows that I’ve watched, I’ve already heard discussion of analytics in a more detailed and critical manner.

Remember that analytics were designed in baseball, and now in hockey, to take advantage of market inefficiencies. This means that they were designed to look at players statistically to see who made contributions to their team’s success in a way that is undervalued by team managers. If someone uses analytics to find these market inefficiencies, and the market inefficiencies exist, then a manager get away getting more value out of a player than they are putting in. The caveat, here, is if the market inefficiency exists.

If everyone is talking about analytics, and everyone is using them, then the market becomes efficient again…there is no sources of untapped value for a manager to tap.

So then, as this wave gathers energy, if using analytics becomes just another manner to keep up, what is a manager supposed to do to get ahead?

Here are two areas to look:

  • Evaluative metrics that inform a development coach how to best improve a player. If a coach can use advanced stats/evaluative metrics/analytics to design a program for their improvement, the coach can identify areas of weakness. We assume that by identifying and working on areas of weakness, we can increase the rate of a player’s improvement. This is like what Darryl Belfry is doing with his players.
  • Physiological measurements. I am making the hypothesis, that there are physiological markers that can predict a player’s performance. Back in the Vancouver Canucks’ Stanley Cup Playoff Run, I had the opportunity to hear from and talk to Dr. Len Zaichowsky. He was their director of sports science. He had the team tracking many physiological values: heart rate variability, sleep quality and quantity, multi-object tracking, T-wave (I’m not sure what that was). I think that they were tracking these values and using them to inform how the players practiced and played. They also had their most successful season as a team…ever. The next year, Dr. Zaichowsky was let go, and they lost in the first round of playoffs. They haven’t made it that far into the post seasons since…
    • What values could you look at and why?
      • In-game heart rate and heart-rate variability. It might be possible to determine what heart rate and heart-rate variability values a player demonstrates when they play at their best. It therefore might be possible to design interventions to more consistently get a player to obtain these values in-game, thereby improving their performance
      • Resting heart rate variability and adrenal stress. Players can sometimes play well when stressed for 1 or 2 games, but their performance may drop off if they remain stressed for games 3 and 4. Perhaps it’s possible to put find and put players in a sweet-spot where their stress levels are in balance to provide optimal performance.
      • Brainwaves and transient hypofrontality. As you know from my previous article on finding flow, turning certain brain structures off is important for getting players into flow. A player who is predisposed to being in flow with a certain neurological state, more often, will be a more effective player. Perhaps by monitoring and informing an athlete, coaches and managers can design processes to more consistently get their players into flow.

I’m suggesting that crest of the wave is a place where there are market inefficiencies. The market is becoming efficient in the sphere of analytics, but might still be inefficient when it comes to measuring physiological values and evaluative metrics that can be used to design a development program.

What do you think? Are there other areas where there might be market inefficiencies in the game of hockey?

-Jason