Why Competitive Practices Can Make All the Difference in Player Development
Posted by Dean Holden at October 13th, 2012
Alan Bass, 24 March 2012
Time for a brief psychology history lesson. In 1898, an Indiana University psychologist named Norman Triplett was casually watching cyclists race when he noticed something – when they were racing by themselves, they did not seem to go as fast as when they were racing against others. He then created what eventually became known as the first ever published study in the field of both social psychology and sport psychology, in which he pitted children against each other reeling in fishing line. He found that when children were reeling in line by themselves, they were much slower than when there was a second child reeling in line next to them – even if they were not in direct competition with each other. Simply the presence of another human being increased physical performance, he realized.
This effect became widely known as “social facilitation”, in which the presence of other people enhance performance (speed and accuracy) in familiar tasks. Since Triplett’s discovery and the creation of the term, over 1,300 papers have been published on the topic, and research continues on the topic.
So how does this relate back to hockey? Interestingly enough, it has great implications for the way in which hockey teams of all ages practice. How many times do you see a drill in which a player skates the length of the ice himself, shoots the puck, then gets in line to do it again? How fast is he truly skating, and how hard is he really trying? From mites to NHL’ers, I can tell you honestly with 99 percent accuracy, not much. When players are pitted in drills with no opposition, there is very little motivation to work as hard as you can.
But if you were to create a practice in which all drills had some level of competition or opposition (or even teamwork), might you be able to pull out a higher level of performance from each player? After all, practice is about getting players to reach an optimal level of performance so they can continue to improve. How much is a player going to improve if he’s only playing to 50 percent of his potential?
There are a few simple ways to add competition within the context of a practice. If you want a drill in which players are skating up the ice and taking a shot on the goalie to warm up, why not put a second player with him and have the two pass the puck back and forth for 200 feet before ripping a shot on net? Or place a defender in front of the player and have a 1-on-1 situation down the ice? Another way to do this is to utilize some small area games, such as a 3-on-3 in the offensive zone (playing across the width of the ice), or a 1-on-1 battle in the corner, culminating in a shot on net.
The key to successful practices from a psychological standpoint, based on this social facilitation theory, is to create the kind of competition and presence of others to get players to reach this optimal level of performance. With 20 players performing at this level, you will not just create a higher level of competition, but with it, higher levels of development, improvement, and ability.