Today’s post comes from my friend Andreas Wochtl. Andreas runs AW Hockey Skills, which (to be overly simplistic) aims to bring European on-ice hockey training methods to the humble Mid-Atlantic area. Andreas and I actually played hockey in the same organization together years ago and reconnected recently as we’re both interested in bring the long-term player development perspective to youth hockey in the area (and throughout the country). I have so much respect for the approach he takes with his athletes that I offered to team up with him and speak to all the kids he’s having at his Swedish Hockey Exchange Camp in August 2013. Should be a good time!

On to today’s post…

How to Breed Talent

We’re just about half-way through the season and as an ACE coordinator (person in charge of the coaches for a club) I’m preparing mid-season coaches evaluations to get a consensus of how the season is going thus far.  One of the questions I place the biggest emphasis on at any level is the simple question “Is your child having fun?” and also whether a positive learning environment was created both during practice and in games.  Obviously not every player can play professional hockey so I spend a lot of time researching what the best methods are to help players reach their fullest potential and a “positive learning environment” frequently shows up in these publications.

There is book out called “The Gold Mine Effect” by Danish author and ex-proathlete Rasmus Ankersen examining how talent is produced and why certain specific places in the world produce them at higher rates than others.  It all started with a challenge posed to a group of youth coaches; what 5 players on your team will be the most successful in five years?  They sealed the answers up and did not open the envelopes up until five years later to find that none of the coaches were very good at predicting talent.  (If you have played any one sport your whole life, you know this to be true already, but that’s neither here nor there!).  The author took it one step further to find common traits in elite athletes.  For example, why do the best sprinters all come from Kingston, Jamaica?  Who do 137 of the world’s top 500 golfers come from South Korea?  How has one small town of 30.000 in Ethiopia won 32 world championships, 10 Olympic golds, and ten world records in track and field?

His conclusion was this;  hard work and character are the only common thread across the world; character to overcome the inevitable setbacks that will happen in sports and the determination and willingness to sacrifice by working harder than anyone else.  There are not shortcuts.  Passion for the sport is essential to success.  The author points to the 10,000 hour rule; two hours and 44 minutes of practice every day for 10 years. (parents, please don’t apply this just yet!).  The desire to practice this hard has to be a cognitive decision and come from the athletes themselves.  Is practicing this much going to be fun all the time?  Absolutely not.  But when there is passion and desire, the hard work will feel less difficult.  Lastly, the author found that these athletes were introduced to a coach that unlocked his/her potential and provided the athlete with the drive and passion necessary to succeed.  The research also shows that it’s important for coaches to take a broad, long-term view with younger athletes and not place too much emphasis on results.

Let’s apply this to our sport, hockey.  There is hidden talent everywhere waiting to be uncovered.  As a coach, we should love weaknesses and see them as opportunities for finding the rare talent that everyone else has overlooked (that’s a quote from the book for full disclosure).  I always joke that the best Peewee aged player will quit by the time he’s 16.  I also argue that at 11-12, the best hockey player to come out of this area has yet to begin playing hockey but is playing three other sports.  So when you are taking stock of the season think about if your coaches are giving all athletes an equal opportunity to succeed.  That doesn’t mean they will ultimately succeed, but if we don’t give them the chance we will never know.  Take away the focus of winning at the younger ages and concentrate on making each player the best he/she can become.  This does NOT make winning a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the central focus but a by-product of the hard-work and dedication by the players.

Best of luck and Happy Holidays!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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