From Good to Great
The mindset for continual improvement
Yesterday I join an off-season skills session for a group of promising juniors.
Four of the eight are on the NHL’s 2021 Draft List. They are some of the best young talents in their region.
The level of play is high. The skaters execute complex movements fluidly and instinctively, showing a glimpse of their pro potential.
Related Read: Making the Most of Your Talent
I approach the most highly-touted skater, a point-per-game+ scorer in a strong league, and propose that he add a wrinkle to his shooting.
Despite, or perhaps because, of his high skill level, this skater falls into a comfort zone when executing a wrist shot. The puck comes off his stick with great velocity and precision, but he almost exclusively shoots off his back foot, leaving deception and variation on the table.
From the slot he can score at will today and even next year against his age peers, but an inability to shoot off both feet and blend release with movement can be a limiting factor. The difference between top-six and bottom-six NHL roles.
So I show him the first progression of the vaunted Auston Matthews Shot.
The idea, at least at first, is incredibly simple.
It’s a three-count from puck prep to release:
SHIFT onto your front leg (right leg for a lefty)
LOAD onto your back leg (left leg for a left)
JUMP back onto your front leg while letting the puck go
As with the vast majority of players, the player initially struggles with the three-count timing.
He fights valiantly against ingrained habits, but on the first few attempts he bails out early and shoots on the two count, off the incorrect leg.
I remind him of the timing and suggest that he focus on the feeling of slapping his front foot onto the ice right before letting the puck go. Gradually he gains confidence and begins ripping front-foot shots past the befuddled goalie.
He looks over and I point at him with a gloved hand, as if to say “that’s how you do it.”
But the most encouraging sign is what occurs after the session. The young player stays on the ice an extra moment and puts in another 30 feel reps, a slow walkthrough of the shooting action while reminding himself of the movement’s simple but counter-intuitive timing.
With the net empty, he shifts his feet with only a slight hesitation, wrists the puck under the crossbar, then gathers the puck to try again.
He’s on the right track.
Up until now he’s had it pretty easy in hockey, but to go from potential first-rounder to NHL regular will require him to push his mindset.
The Levels of the Game:
I pick up a new skill and rep it out on a practice sheet - almost anyone can do this
I deploy the skill under time/space constraint in a small game - improving juniors do this
I transfer the skill into an actual 5v5 game, where solutions need to be found and the fear of making mistakes, ever-present - established pros do this
I re-invent the skill in a high-pressure, career-defining scenario, where the best of the best raise their level as the rest falls off - all-time greats do this
To maximise his potential he’ll need to be impatient and patient all at once.
Impatient enough to want to get better, right now.
Patient enough to accept setbacks as he learns more about the levels of the game.