As a service to those interested in the philosophies of Prodigy Hockey we have provided the following practice design principles which are underpinned by research and our personal experiences.
Defining skill is the cornerstone of this discussion. Skill is the meaningful and efficient deployment of technique in the situational context of game tactics. For a player to be “skillful” there must be an understanding of when to use techniques appropriately in games situations. Because of this, skill becomes more about decisions, rather than physical movements. How many players do you see who have technical ability but zero transfer into games? Todd Beane, a world renowned soccer development coach articulates this very well when he talks about invasion sports “[it] is not the sum of it’s technical parts; it is much more.”
Research shows that being able to execute isolated techniques isn’t transferable to game situations. Therefore, we spend almost zero time working in straight lines or skating around cones searching for the perfect execution of technique. We believe in technique refinement, but only in the case that a movement isn’t functional. Ultimately we have to provide our players with tasks that represent what they’ll face in games. We want to avoid the endless repetition of solutions to problems that has become the norm for skill work. Teaching skills without the context of problem solving game solutions is like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Serving up solutions without the prerequisite problems that a player will encounter in games and inferring that players use the solutions at an undetermined precise moment does not enhance hockey sense. We want to present game problems and guide our players toward solutions that fit their style and physiological profile. The on ice dynamics of hockey move organically and a player isn’t going to be served set problems at specific times each game. We need to be able to adapt to the dynamics of the game in the moment, anticipate their outcomes, and deploy solutions from this information. The more attuned a player is to game problems, the calmer, more skillful a player can be when it counts. disrupt the established motor program controlling the action”, simply stated in the context of our practices, if the challenge for the athlete is too high – there will be no transfer of learning.Conversely, Martin also writes that, “adding a cognitively demanding task, caused a decrement in performance, the amount of decrement decreasing as the level of expertise [of the participants] increased.” Simply put, the challenge point threshold is a crucial part of our coaching. As a Prodigy coach it’s our job to know where on the challenge dial we need to be for the individual. This is where our understanding of practice design, and the player in front of us is crucial.
Why can’t my son or daughter explain how they did something on the ice, are they learning?
If we’re getting our players totally immersed in problem solving, some of the solutions used may not come to the forefront of their conscious mind initially. Rather these skills are being comprehended below the consciousness as they learn to gather information into meaningful configurations. The more players learn, the more proficient they will become at finding and effectively labeling the information they see. Movement isn’t like learning math. There isn’t enough time to consciously decide each action. Our brains are so impressive they’re a few steps ahead of us. Imagine trying to play the game with conscious thoughts, “OK, I need to get on my outside edge here, then I need to stride to get there. Here comes the puck – I missed it”! There is certainly a need for conscious intention, but we want to get in the flow of the game and solve the problems we face otherwise known as external focus of attention. External focus of attention shifts the focus of the athlete towards the result of the movement or the effects the movement has on the environment. This external focus has shown to be more effective in developing skills and also helps skills hold up under greater pressure demands as well. As Mark O’Sullivan says, “We want to develop in game knowledge, not just knowledge of the game.” We know a lot of players, coaches that have knowledge of the game, but not in the game.
Are you going to break down the technique into smaller components? Then build them back up again?
No, we address technical development by using the Constraints Led Approach to skill acquisition (CLA). The constraints led approach puts a strong emphasis on discovery learning where exploratory practice encourages problem-solving behaviors. In this system our players are asked to actively engage in what is being taught and discover their own unique solutions to the on ice problems we give them. When they discover the solutions to the task we give them, whether they are “right” or “wrong” they will grow from the experience of the different task solutions. In this system, Prodigy Hockey instructors are tasked with manipulating the environment and constraining drills and skills to facilitate this problem solving. We don’t believe there is only one way to execute a technique, and with over 20 years of experience studying the skating, stick handling, passing and shooting of elite players we know that players utilize styles that fit their specific strengths and limitations.
Why do parts of your session look chaotic?
We do a lot of keep away, tag, chasing games where there is “controlled chaos”. These are a lot of fun for the players and these activities help develop their awareness and skills and are part of our CLA to skill acquisition. Building intelligent players is always first on the list of priorities for us. Our players need to be more aware of their surroundings. We want them to find out where is the open space, where are my teammates, where are my opponents?. Explicitly telling a player to look around all of the time isn’t the answer. Research shows that implicit instruction is always superior to explicit instruction. By creating congested areas the players have to operate in challenges spatial awareness and the locations of teammates and opponents on the ice. Protecting a player’s health is the first and foremost priority and the foundation for this starts by being aware of surroundings. The ability to feel, see and operate under the pressure of an opponent is crucial. The younger we can help build this ability the better!
Why don’t you use cones or apparatus’ during your sessions?
All the decisions a player makes on the ice are based on space, the positioning of opponents and teammates as related to the movement of the puck. We try to help players direct their actions by becoming aware of an opponent’s kinematic cues. For example, when working on puck skills a player making moves around a cone or an apparatus eliminates the representative information that players use in games. Although players will become more adept at making a fake at a cone, this won’t translate well into game scenarios where they have to read the opponent. An experts’ superiority over their less skilled counterparts in predicting opponents’ action intentions based on the opponent’s kinematics has been identified in early work  and confirmed repeatedly since   The best stick handlers in the world are the best anticipators of their opponents actions.
Why so many small area games?
Improving a player’s game intelligence is our philosophy. To accomplish this, tasks can take on any combination of players. We want to re-create problems that our players face and help them start to learn solutions. By adhering to the CLA to skill acquisition we may shrink or expand the complexity of the situation we put the players in. We will challenge the player and their environment with a task which will be present in a real game. The way we design the task will help different movements, solutions to problems and skills emerge.
My player said you asked them a lot of questions, why is that?
Learning is the focus of every session. For that to take place we need to get the player to participate in the problem solving. Learning is promoted and permanent when the player is actively involved in the problem solving. We want to create interactive learning environments. Unfortunately, most coaches believe they need to be the dominating figure in the relationship, and dictate all of the player’s on ice decisions. We want to help build autonomos problem solvers, so when it’s game time they can handle anything that comes their way.
2 Visual Perception and Action in Sport; A. Mark Williams Link Here
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5 Acquiring Skill in Sport: A Constraints-Led Perspective Link Here
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