The Importance of Speed of Mind in Hockey
Posted by Dean Holden at September 29th, 2012
Alan Bass, 11 Feb 2012
If you look at some of the best players in the NHL today – Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, and more – there is a common thread between their skill sets. Each of these players has differing techniques they use that utilize their strengths and hide their weaknesses, yet each of them manage to flaunt their talents because of their ability to make split-second decisions – “hockey sense”, as it is known in the hockey world. In fact, Wayne Gretzky will be the first to tell you that he was far from the most talented player when he was tearing up the NHL record book in the 1980s and 1990s. The reason he was successful is because he had an uncanny ability to anticipate the play and know exactly what each of the other nine players on the ice would do in any given situation. As he famously said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Anatoli Tarasov, the famous Soviet Coach (known as the architect of the powerhouse Soviet hockey teams in the 1960s and ’70s) had a famous saying: “Speed of hand, speed of foot, speed of mind. The most important of these is speed of mind. Teach it.”
Logically, this would make sense. You could be the fastest skater in the world, have a shot that hits the back of the net nine times out of ten, and an uncanny ability to pass the puck. But if you are unaware of the flow of the game, how a situation will unfold, or even where you should be positionally at all times, those talents will be useless, just as the valedictorian of Harvard Business School needs an awareness of the business world and its trends or his 4.0 GPA will be for naught.
Tarasov’s hockey teams would train for endless hours utilizing drills that allowed players to practice their creativity and develop their decision-making. In addition, players understood that at all times, the puck has the ability to move faster than any player on the ice. This led to his famed system consisting of short, quick, accurate passes, causing opponents to be left spinning around, looking for where the puck might be next. Not only were players expected to have this ability to connect with each other on a constant basis, but they were also expected to have such quick decision-making abilities that they would know what they wanted to do with the puck before they even received a pass. Tarasov helped accomplish this desired goal by creating drills that forced players to anticipate the play before it happened.
One drill he used consistently was a three-on-three rush in which players were not allowed to hold the puck for more than two seconds. This caused them not only to pass the puck, but to predict where each player would be before he even received the initial pass. Another drill he used was a three-on-three in the offensive zone with a wild card player standing stationary at the blue line. Only the team with the puck could use that player, creating almost a 4-on-3 advantage. If there was a turnover, the defensive team had to get the puck back to the wild card in order to switch and become the offensive team. Drills such as these help to stimulate players’ minds by creating a common goal (maintain control of the puck and score) while also launching enough spontaneity into the drill to force players to think outside the box.
Teaching hockey players is much more than simply standing in front of a white board and drawing X’s and O’s. It’s about creating an environment where players have the ability to both make mistakes and succeed creatively. Why use two players in a drill when you can force more creative plays with three? Why use the full ice when you can put cones in certain areas and direct the play as such? By utilizing creativity and forcing players to develop this speed of mind, they can develop even more efficiently and have smarter, more able hockey minds.