A Search for Common Ground and Understanding: Hockey’s Aptitude Test

I’ve always been fascinated with the correlation between multiple intelligences and the introduction to future careers and overall performance in the classroom setting. 

A few years back I gave one of my PDCP (Personal Development and Career Planning 10) classes a sample aptitude test.  The test was from the Government of Ontario and was geared towards Correction Officers, but the one thing that was intriguing to me was the thought that I had never taken an aptitude test before as a player or coach within the game of hockey.  

Several years ago, during my second full season coaching JV Girl’s Basketball at Harrison Trimble High School, I had worked hard to develop a play book for my team so they could study the set out of bounds plays and various offensives, I also had a thought to test a few of my hockey teams with regards to hockey sense and scenarios within the game.  Time restraints always seemed to play a factor in my decision not to assess those teams and players in that manner. I regret that now. 

I always go to the board in the first few weeks of a semester and write down the word, assume. I tell a few stories about the word and experiences coaching or teaching, but then I always say we can’t assume anything or it will make “an ass out of you and me.” At that point I draw two straight lines down through the word.  Ass|U|Me

Obviously, in the game of hockey or anything for that matter we can never assume or base anything on assumptions. 

I think it would be fascinating to compare and contrast aptitude test scores between the game of hockey and school related curriculum.  Aptitude and personality tests could provide an in-depth look at a player’s critical reasoning, observational skills and reaction time.  In my opinion, processing and reaction times would be the most valued area to assess given the skills needed to be an affective hockey player at any level.  

To further enhance player development these tests would have to be geared to test all the multiple intelligences associated with the game in a clear and concise manner. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences would also be fascinating “lookfors” for any coach or anyone for that matter in the game. Obviously, by now we all know every athlete is wired differently and learn concepts at different rates. By now we all know that every person grows and develops at their own unique pace. 

From my experience in the coaching world there was always some element of confusion amongst young age groups with regards to terminology, hockey rhetoric, systematic play and general hockey knowledge. Young players possessed the skills, but they didn’t necessarily know how to implement and incorporate those skills at the right intervals. 

You see we can’t assume a player knows a skill or a concept. We can’t assume or make judgements on their processing or decision-making skills without fully understanding their thought processing and reasoning. That assumption could be detrimental to their development and creativity especially at young ages. Case in point, I remember blowing down a drill back in the day where I was quite animated and agitated with regards to the execution of the drill and stressed taking the puck wide.  Upon starting the drill up after a somewhat lengthy explanation and demonstration the players failed to understand the teaching point and skill within the drill.  

The players literally took the puck and skated wide directly into coverage and missed the entire premise behind the drill to take the puck wide, change speed and drive the net.   It was clear that the players heard take the puck wide, I assumed the change of speed and net drive was self-explanatory and would have been observed in the demonstration.   

As a coach you assume that the demonstration of the drill would have been enough visual evidence for the players. Nevertheless, that specific group of players were very logical and literal thinkers. You see I should have explained and broken each of the individual skills down during the demonstration to ensure understanding before continuing on with the drill.   

Having your finger on the pulse of your hockey club and knowing how each individual thinks the game of hockey is vital for any coach.  We can’t assume a player fully understands a specific skill, based on past experience and or knowledge.  

In my opinion in this day and age getting inside the mind of any player should be a coach’s top priority. 

If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely take the time to implement a more intellectual driven approach to my coaching philosophy. I would want to try to understand where the player comes from, how they learn, what motivates them, how they process or see the game and finally what drives or inspires them. 

A hockey aptitude test or tests designed specifically in that domain would provide the player with the foundation and understanding of team systems that would ensure common ground with regards to ideology, terminology, reasoning, execution and decision making.  

Obviously, things have drastically changed since I was behind the bench. Video reinforcement has taken on an entirely new meaning in the game, but video usage would also be incorporated into that testing model.  I guess it all goes back to a commonly asked questions around the hockey world. 

Can you teach hockey sense or hockey IQ? Is it nature or nurture? Can the player think the game, can they play at the next level if they process the game like that? Are they coachable?

Do they want it? Do they want to learn? How bad do they want it?  It doesn’t matter how many questions you ask, it all boils down to the player, the coach, the search for common ground and the team environment and culture. Personality and aptitude testing could potentially go a long way in answering those questions. 

I’ve seen the difference in the classroom, where students 11 years into their schooling finally realize how they learn, process information, grow and development. They also learn where their strengths and weaknesses lye. Learning how to learn, learning about yourself could ultimately be a game changer for many young players and their trajectory in the game. 

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