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

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Hacking Sports Psychology – What “You think too much!” really means…

“You think too much” is common feedback that I received throughout my career. And it confused me.
 
It was correct feedback…because people who were not as smart as me could play hockey much better than me. It drove me nuts.
 
But did their brains really just shut off? And is that what I should do? Just shut my brain off?
 
It turns out that a more accurate way of describing what was going on is, “you’re thinking with the wrong system.”
 
Two Ways of thinking…
 

Continue reading Hacking Sports Psychology – What “You think too much!” really means…

Hacking the 10,000 Rule

10,000 hour rule is more of a relationship than a rule. What was found by Anders Ericsson, and since exemplified in many popular books like “Outliers”, “The Talent Code”, “Bounce”, etc., is that for the most part, musicians who accumulate more deliberate practice than others tend to be better than those with less practice. The “rule” that was found, was that most “experts” have accumulated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

But this is a correlation, not a law. The rule is not aptly named. It should be called the 10,000 hour relationship.

In Steven Kotler’s brand new book, “The Rise of Superman”, he claims that action and adventure athletes have found a way to dramatically shorten the amount of practice necessary to reach “expert status”.

The path to mastery can be significantly shortened by accessing a specific psychological state. This psychological state is known as “flow”.

Why this information is important is because flow is accessible by pulling certain levers. Certain environmental, situational and and psychological factors can help trigger access to “flow states”. When athletes enter into a flow state, they experience optimal performance, a loss of sense of self, a loss of time, fearlessness, and the ability to generate creative and original solutions to problems.

If an athlete can more often enter flow states, they can progress their skill level and effectiveness at a much faster rate. In a day and age where everyone is maxing out their schedules with practice time, how you are using your practice time is what will set you apart. Can you Get Better Faster? Can you make your development non-linear – can you get multiple levels of output for singular inputs?

It is my guess that athletes who can easily enter into flow states are probable the best athletes on your team. It is important to note, that most coaches, parents and most aspects of society DO NOT promote flow states in athletes. So athletes who defy these forces in some way are the ones who mysteriously beat the 10,000 hour rule and rise above everyone else. Action and adventure athletes are able to beat those forces because what they do DEMANDS that they are in flow…or else they die! What, in our day and age, specifically precludes athletes from getting into flow? Here are a few common ones:

  • The distracted present. In order to be in flow, you need to be 100% involved in the moment. You actually experience a narrowing of attention, but only on the relevant stimuli. So if you’re trying to score a goal, the only thing going through your head is locating where some mesh is and how you’re going to get the puck there. If you face any distractions, like what the coach might think or what your parents will say if you miss. What specifically precludes athletes from getting into flow in their day to day life is the myriad of distractions that surround us. So if they are always answering every single thing on their phone, it is hard for them to get into flow. In our workouts and training, we do our best to remove any and all distractions to counter this.
  • Too many practices and games. If every little thing is structured in a child’s life, and they have no novelty or autonomy. Adding play has the benefit of releasing neurotransmitters that encourage athletes to enter into flow. We add unstructured free time and also provide our athletes with the autonomy to generate their own games and rules.
  • Parents and coaches. When coaches and parents give too much (even well-intentioned) feedback, athletes need to think too much. Thinking prevents the flow state, because the flow state has no conscious thought. I see this all the time with our athletes: if I go overboard giving feedback cues, athletes think too much and then crumble. We use a technique known as bandwidth feedback to ensure that our athletes get the correct amount of feedback to improve their performance, but not so much that they can’t get into flow states.

You might be wondering what specific levers we need to pull to get athletes into flow states. The first thing is to not pull the levers that keep you out of flow states! If you want to learn more about getting into flow states, I suggest reading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, or “The Rise of Superman” by Steven Kotler. Also, stay tuned for more articles on flow.

As a bit of a teaser, the things that get you into flow are:

  • Clear goals
  • Direct and immediate feedback
  • Correct Skill/Challenge Ratio

So to summarize, let’s look at how our knowledge of talent development has progressed over time:

  • Early (1.0): We thought that talent was innate, something that you were born with or not
  • Recently (2.0): Talent can be grown…with 10,000 hours of deliberate, structured, systematic practice (If you thought this, then good on you, you’re still a part of the new wave movement way of thinking about talent development)
  • Latest (3.0 – Cutting edge of the new wave): Talent can be grown, at an exponentially accelerating rate, as an athlete develops their ability to enter into flow states. Athletes who spend more time in flow can accelerate their performance beyond those who don’t spend as much time in flow.

Hopefully this article has enticed you to spend time thinking about flow states and maybe get into some heavier reading. Good luck flowing!