The Ice Hockey Scouts: Sport students test an observation system in Finnish Vierumäki
Posted by Dean Holden at February 11th, 2012
UTE OLBERTZ, Martin Luthor University (Halle-Wittenberg), April 13, 2010
Who will make it into the Finnish U16 ice hockey team? This was the big question which not only plagued the 160 young players at Finnish Vierumäki for four days. It was also a challenge for the five students of the Masters for Applied Sports Psychology program of Halle University, led by Professor Oliver Stoll and Dr. Andreas Lau from the 2nd to 10th of March. They had traveled to Finland to face this challenge, the result of which produced unforeseeable consequences. Of the participating athletes under the age of 16, only 40 received the “ticket” necessary to become junior members in line for the national team.
Right from the beginning there was excitement amongst members of the scouting program for the Finish Ice Hockey Association (FIHA). Professor Stoll had, with support, already visited the Socrates Program the year before. The sports psychologist mentioned: “A partnership with the Haaga-Helia University already began in 2005”. The sports institute Vierumäki also belongs to the university, a small campus located in the midst of quiet Finish forests. The institute there has developed a talent observation system for ice hockey, based on idea of a Vierumäki student, which focuses in particular on the methods of players and which technical elements play a role. The quality of the criteria was later researched and tested at the Martin Luther University.The system has high predictive validity and is now used by the U16 national team in Finland.
What criteria are relevant in a system that assesses whether an ice hockey player is suitable for the national team? Stoll explains: “First we carry out motor and sports medicine test for four days, which are conducted on a parallel basis while the teams start competing against each other in a tournament”. The five sports students from Halle, including Philipp Auerswald who showed extreme sportive capabilities on the ZDF TV show “Wetten Das” (see page 19), observe the 15 year old athletes together with finish students. “Our Master students can now apply what they have learned”, says Stoll.
Every student observes the behavior of three players, also off the ice, and note down their findings in the realm of “mental scouting” on an observation sheet, similar to a questionnaire. The sports psychologist adds: “Those criteria which are relevant as to whether or not a player is applicable include willpower, perseverance, as well as the ability to be a team player and whether the player is capable of taking over responsibility. Nonverbal communication on the ice is also relevant, including body language.”
During the scouting a Finish and a German student were asked to observe the same three players independently of one another. The evaluation and comparison of the results showed a high level of agreement between the students’ findings. This also proves that the screening system is solid and is based on scientific standards. During this process students were able to combine research with practical application. The results from the year before could also be tested and confirmed. Stoll says: “The special thing is that ice hockey trainers can now be educated at an academic level”.
The forty chosen players are supposed to grow into U16 players and are the start of the future of the extended national team. They will be invited regularly over the next two years, and will obtain special training. In addition, during this time period, a further selection will take place alongside the education, so that in the end 25 players aged 18 are left over. The best players played against each other in a tournament at the end of the evaluation and their stay at Vierumäki, which allowed them to show their abilities during a high level game. The Finish partner institute provided for the care and overnight stay of the MLU guests, while the costs of the students were covered by the Finish Ice Hockey Association, and the university teachers were sponsored by the Socrates program. “We are already invited to attend next year” Stoll exclaimed. “A few of the students are already thinking about how to extend this selection process to soccer”.