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"Practicing right" or "Practicing wrong"?

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

At this very moment my wife Jenn and I are helping out at a Hockey Ministries International hockey camp, where we help amazing young players increase their hockey skills while they grow spiritually.

If you and I are meeting here to watch some hockey, when we open the arena door, a cold wall hits our face. Hockey camp during hot weather is awesome!

We walk into the hockey arena and what do we see? Watching the players skating around at the beginning of the ice session, before the coach starts the practice, what do we hear? Bang, bang, bang, bang... pucks loudly crashing off the boards and plexiglass as players, trying to shoot them top corner, are missing the net.

This is a normal and consistent sound in every ice arena across the world. As an NHL player, I remember being one of these players consistently missing the net in practice. I never thought about this much. Everyone else tried to shoot "top corner" creating the bang, bang, bang; why wouldn't I join in? Actually, this sound became so normal in my life that I didn't really hear it, and I certainly didn't realize the impact that it could have on my future performance.

During the middle part of my NHL career, I began to pay attention to more of the little things, including this sound. Was this bang, bang, bang helping or hindering my goal scoring?

I called my unintentional action "practicing wrong," and began to challenge myself to change, to focus on reducing that sound, to be more intentional about hitting the net throughout the whole practice.

Simple science suggests that what we do consistently gets wired and layered into the neurons and synapse connections of our brain. Our chosen or non-chosen routine develops non-conscious automatic behaviour. "Practicing wrong" or "practicing right" both generate results.

Obviously, players practicing missing the net is not the action that delivers desired goal scoring success, longterm. I am reminded of my time playing for the Washington Capitals, when I watched the New York Islanders team practice. Long after everyone had left the ice after practice, I watched prolific goal scorer Mike Bossy take 25 pucks to an area about 25 feet in front of the empty net. Mike buried his head, never looking at the net, and fired wrist shots 8 to 10 inches off the ice into the middle of the net.

Mike demonstrated his understanding of two important aspects of our game. At the NHL level there is very little time to pick a corner, so why practice shooting while looking up? Secondly, a puck placed low and on the net has better odds of going in than a puck shot high and potentially over the net (bang, bang, bang).

Mike Bossy is the NHL's all-time leader in average goals scored per regular season game, holds the NHL's third-highest all-time average points scored per regular season game, and is one of only five players to have scored 50 goals in 50 games. He is tied for the record for most 50 goal seasons with Wayne Gretzky (9), although his were consecutive while Gretzky's were not. This means that Mike Bossy stands alone as the record-holder for most consecutive 50 goal seasons.

Ask yourself: did Mike "practice right" or "practice wrong"?

Coaches (and players) who pay attention will realize that what we hear can be the indicator of a brilliant future habit or a bad future direction. Is this a little thing? Yes. Do the little things always count? Ask Mike!

Hockey coaches (I used to be one) often run practice drills where players end up taking a shot on net and then skating directly into the corner to jump back in line to repeat this action. In our current game, a large number of goals (at all levels of hockey) are generated off the second shot or what we call the rebound. Put these two ideas together. If a player consistently shoots the puck in practice and then glides into the corner, is that player building a habit to be ready and in position "in front of the net" for the rebound during the game?

High performance, both on and off the ice, certainly doesn’t increase with worry, or happen by hoping. High performance in every field results from conscious pursuit that is practiced to the point of non-conscious habit. High performance happens intentionally at first and then automatically later (in the Flow/Zone).

"Practicing wrong" is often not intentional, but that is the point. Attention needs to precede intention. Then intention develops and directs more attention. To be intentional about "hitting the net more often" or "stopping in front of the net after taking the shot," we must first be aware that we are not hitting the net or stopping in front of the net. Often this is where great coaches, with great game awareness, make a difference.

First we must pay attention. Often as players, our attention to these small details gets blinded by social factors. Everyone else misses the net; everyone else glides into the corner; why should I be different?

As you are already highly aware, I am not only talking to hockey players and coaches. Off the ice, what actions deliver your very best? What habits do you want to keep, or want to delete? In the performance matters of your life, are you "practicing right" or "practicing wrong?"

What noises are you hearing in your life? Remember that this sound: bang, bang, bang had become so normal in my life that I didn't really hear it. What words do you consistently tell yourself? Are these words, noises, and practiced actions delivering your desired positive results, or do they layer in your brain as habits that highjack your best?

In the multiple areas of our busy lives are we "practicing right" or "practicing wrong"?

Many of our corporate clients are engaging our services this summer and throughout the fall in order to energize their teams, focus their cultural mindset, and brainstorm processes around how to have their teams best COMMUNICATE during this new-normal.

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