Learning and Hockey

Learning how to learn - that's a pretty heavy statement. We all went to school didn't we. Isn't learning (learning how to learn) suppose to be the main focus or, is it regurgitation (kick back of ideas - memory) that everyone wants. 

Learning can be described alternately: to study, to acquire, to assimilate, to commit to memory, to absorb, to comprehend, to digest, to discover, to enlighten, to experience.

If you know something already, one can say that it is learned, or acquired but if one has to LEARN something new, what process must a player go through to LEARN something. 

According to teaching experts, a person will learn  either singularly or by a combination of 3 different  methods; Audio (listening - I hear you....), Visual (seeing - yeah I see what you mean, or I can see that or could you show me) or Kinesthetic (feeling, doing - I can feel that,  or can I try that). Players speech patterns often demonstrate which "learning modality" they prefer (I have given a couple of examples above).  Athletes generally prefer Visual, Kinesthetic methods of teaching (seeing and doing).

Learning: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic 

Shown below are cues that typically point to a preference in learning styles. While all people utilize all three, MOST people prefer one over the other two. The following represents some of the characteristics associated with each learning type.




- are neat and orderly

- speak quickly

- are good long range planners and organizers

- are appearance-oriented in both dress and presentation

are good spellers and can actually see the words in their minds

- remember what was seen rather than what they heard

-memorize by visual association

- usually are not distracted by noise

- are strong, fast readers

- would rather do a demonstration than make a speech.

- would rather read than be read to

- need an overall view and purpose and are cautious until mentally clear about an issue or project.

- doodle during phone conversations and meetings

- often answer questions with a simple yes or no.

- like art more than music

- often know what to say but cannot find the right words

- sometimes tune out when they mean to pay attention.

- forget to relay verbal messages to others.

-talk to themselves while working-are easily distracted by noise

-move their lips and pronounce the words as they read

-enjoy aloud and listening

-can repeat back and mimic tone pitch and timbre

-find writing difficult, but are better at telling

-speak on rhythmic patterns

-like music more than art

-learn by listening and remember what was discussed rather than seen

-are talkative, love discussion, and go into lengthy descriptions

-have problems with projects that involve visualization, such as cutting pieces that fit together 

-can spell better out loud than in writing

-like jokes better than comics

-speak slowly

-respond to physical rewards

-touch people to get their attention

-stand close when talking to someone

-are physically orientated and move a lot

-have early large-muscle development

-learn by manipulation and doing

-memorize by walking and seeing

-use a finger as a pointer when reading

-gesture a lot

-can't sit still for long periods of time

-can't remember geography unless they've been there

-use action words

-like plot-oriented books-they reflect action with body movement as they read

-may have messy handwriting

-want to act thongs out

-like involved games

Shown below is a list of common verbal cues by modality.
Visual Auditory Kinesthetic

- appears to me

-birds eye view

-catch a glimpse of


-dim view

-eye to eye

-get a scope on

-hazy idea

-in light of

-in person

-in view of

-looks like

-mental image

-mind's eye

-pretty as a picture

-see to it


-showing off

-tunnel vision


-all ears

-call on

-clear as a bell

-clearly expressed

-describe in detail


-give me your ear

-idle talk

-loud and clear


-rap session

-rings a bell

-to tell the truth

-tuned in / tuned out

-unheard of

-voiced an opinion

-within hearing range

-all washed up

-boils down to

-come to grips with

-floating on thin air

-get a handle on

-get a load of this

-get in touch with

-get the drift of

-hand in there!

-hold it!


-lay cards on table

-pull some strings

-sharp as a tack

-slipped form my mind

-start from scratch

-stiff upper lip

-too much hassle


The following questionnaire is something that I had kicking around that I thought that you might be interested in. It gives you a bit of an idea about how you learn.

Read each set of words and mark the two that best describe you.







b-people person

c-problem solver














b-getting to the point







d-wants direction



























a-competing work

b-seeing possibilities

c-gaining ideas



















After completing the test, circle the letters of the works you chose for each number in the grid below. Add your totals for columns, 1,2,3, and 4. Multiply the total of each column by 4. The box with the highest number describes how you most often process information
1 2 3 4
1 C D A B
2 A C B D
3 B A D C
4 B C A D
5 A C B D
6 B C A D
7 B D C A
8 C A B D
9 D A B C
10 A C B D
11 D B C A
12 C D A B
13 B D C A
14 A C D B
15 A C B D


 x 4 = Concrete Sequential (CS)
2. x 4 = Abstract Sequential (AS)
3. x 4 = Abstract Random (AR)
4. x 4 = Concrete Random (CR)
Circle the totals above each group below



























Concrete sequential thinkers (CS) are based in reality and process information in an ordered, sequential, linear fashion. Here are some tips for CS thinkers.

- Build on your organizational strengths. Organize your days and weeks realistically, planning how much time you need to spend on projects in advance.

- Provide yourself with details. Make sure you know everything you need to know to complete a task.

- Break your projects down into specific steps. Five yourself deadlines so you'll know when you're on track.

- Set up a quiet work environment. Know what interferes with your concentration and eliminate it.


Concrete random thinkers have an experimental attitude and the less structured behavior that goes along with it. Here are some helpful tips:

- Use your divergent thinking ability. Believe that it's good to see things from more than one point of view. Come up with alternative ideas and explore them. Create ideas rather than judge them. Keep a questioning attitude. 

- set yourself up to solve problems. Volunteer for projects that involve solving a problem,   work through your own projects by posing a question and then solve it.

- Check your time. Give yourself deadlines for each step of your task, then resolve to finish it on time.

- Accept your need for change. When things start to seem stale, make small changes to keep y our mind sharp - even if it just means moving to a new room or area.

Abstract Random Thinkers (AR)

- The "real" world for abstract random learners is the world of feelings and emotions. Some helpful hints:

- Use your natural ability to work with others. Find colleagues you can work with, and bounce ideas off one another. When you have a task to complete, set deadlines and check in with people often along the way.

- Recognize yow strongly emotions influence your concentration. Avoid negative people, and settle personal concerns and problems promptly. These can drain your energy.

- Build on your strength to learn by association. Make visual and verbal associations. Use metaphors, silly stories and other creative expressions to  help you member.

- Look at the big picture. Work from the large concept to the smaller details.

Abstract Sequential Thinkers (AS)

Reality for abstract sequential thinkers is the world of theory and abstract thought. Some tips:

- Give yourself exercises in logic. When problem solving, turn your problem into a theoretical situation and solve it at that level.

- Feed your intellect. If you're involved in a project, be sure to read everything you can on the subject so that you'll have all the facts you need to complete it to your standards.

- Strive for structure. In your personal life and career, steer yourself towards  highly structured situations. In your projects, chart out the steps and the time involved for each step in advance.

- Analyze the people you deal with. If you know the learning styles of other people it will be easier for you to understand them and make them understand you.

Whew!  What a mouth full. Just to let you know that there is a lot of things to consider when coaching. 

How a coach teaches (draws on a board, talks4 about or demonstrates) effects a players ability to learn. What is necessary then is to test each player on his or her learning modality to determine which method maximizes speed of assimilation. There are many books out  there on  this topic and it is not my desire to print a book on this page but to educate that this LEARNING problem actually exists. Why to students or players learn from different teachers quicker than others. Or, why do students or players excel at different subjects or different game roles.  We are all different of course but why does this happen.

What happens when you get an Audio teacher with a group of Visual, Kinesthetic students? A miserable teacher and a classroom full of bored hyper kids.

Some players or students "just don't ever seem to get it...". I have heard this comment many times and have caught myself using it on several occasions. It is my responsibility to teach my players the best way that they assimilate information. In hockey where there is such pressure to win every night, how fast a player can learn new concepts / tactics / skills impacts the team immensely. We spend a lot of time going to coaching seminars learning new tactics, concepts and ideas and then bring then to the practice and not ever really clue in as too why some get it and some don't. We just say that a kid has a problem or an attention disorder.

How do we as teachers on ice, in a group environment, reach all. Before we begin the teaching process, we must assess our "team" collective game intelligence; what does each player know  don't know (it's different of course if you have been with the same team for several years as in Junior, College or Pro). And, do the players fit our game philosophies?....do they fit our skill profile?....do they want to learn new things or perfect the old? There are necessary game tactics that each player must know (breakouts, D-zone responsibilities, etc) and there are trick plays that they may have to use (face-off plays, odd man attack plays, etc) once a game or once a month or as per opponent.

As a coach, our ability to teach and players ability to assimilate information quickly is critical to our team's success. Assimilating information and then applying it under high pressure conditions can be tricky. The speed of which we execute decisions and the quality of choices that we make ultimately determines we level and success at that level we attain. 

I guess that we can put it another way: WHAT do we know, and WHAT do we REALLY know.

Try this test but get the following first: A dependable partner (kidding), a stop watch, a pen and a piece of paper with the following number sequences on it:


Sequence Time Mistakes


2 3 4



Have your partner take the pen, paper and stop watch. (NO PRACTICING) When you are ready count our the first sequence out loud but without the paper in front of you, citing only from memory and your partner will mark down your time in the column on the right stopping you when you have passed the last number on the far right. Obviously the first two sequences will be easy but getting progressively harder until we reach multiples of five. Next in the column is the number of mistakes that you made and to the right again mark in the length of time on each mistake (as close as possible) up to a maximum of four.


NOTE: Once you get to the sequence of multiple 3s, 4s, and 6s, every time you hesitate, have your partner circle the number and count how long it takes you to get back on track (1-1000, 2-1000, etc) marking in the designated columns.


Do you notice anything interesting here. First of all the 1s, 2s, 5s should be easiest. 3s, the next easiest, 4s,6s.7s.and 8s getting progressively harder. Time varies considerably. What we KNOW (1s,2s,5s) or are familiar with because we use these sequences the most. The number of mistakes should increase dramatically as well as the time it takes to recover. Well, what does this all mean.


We have learned the times tables but have not committed them entirely to memory to be able to "regurgitate" the answers under pressure quickly and precisely. KIND OF LIKE HOCKEY. The objective  then is to break down the game into executable progressions that mimic game situations that the players instinctively do (regurgitate). 


Well, that creates and interesting problem. Lets take a breakout for example. How can we test a player so that we KNOW what he KNOWS. A breakout is a complex interaction between 5 other players (including goaltender) on the same team and 5 other players on the other team (10 players and exponential possibilities) and a puck that are all having to read the same "cause and effect" scenarios. IS IT REALLY THAT COMPLICATED!


If we dump the puck into the defensive zone we have to be a little more precise on our demands especially with older players. Asking for an "up, over, reverse, over and back, wheel, seam, stretch" will test what they know in theory but can they select the correct option under pressure (recognize the pattern of forecheck like multiples of 4,etc). How are players supporting each other, how are they filling lanes, etc will give us some indication as to what they see and how they react (not just going through the motions). Adding pressure forces the players to move through there supposed LEARNED options faster. 


What becomes particularly interesting is that as we increase the tasks at hand per player, the overall "Execution Tempo" slows down. How many times have coaches flipped out on players or the team when practice speed has been reduced to a trickle. What has happened is that the ability of the brain to process EXCESS information has slowed down their physical executable skills. 


Now, lets start all over again. What would happen if we performed the above mathematical tasks while performing a physical task. This physical task has to be something that you are familiar with such as bouncing a basketball, hopping up and down, or bouncing on a small trampoline. As well, we need a metronome (ticker for time - used by piano junkies) to measure rhythm. Now, perform the same mental tasks and see the result. Does the rhythm break as the task becomes more complicated.


Now perform the next mental tasks:


x2s (10) count variable

instead of saying 10 multiples substitute letters, 10 = A, 20 = B, 

30 = C, etc.



x1s (5) count variable

(25).  Substitute 5s with A,B,C,D,E etc



x1s (5) math variable + 2 - 4). +2 -4).

18.19.(20+2-4).  As shown here, instead of saying the multiple of 5, add 2 say the number, - 4 say the number, then progress into the next number after the 5 multiple.





As we can see, each progression becomes harder and harder while still using familiar sequences. I could make this multi-tasking very difficult but you get my point. Try the above sequences while performing a physical task and see what  happens.


Now, we cannot have players skating around doing math problems while performing breakouts can we although I am sure that that would be very interesting. Over a ten year research period as I have mentioned in an alternate page, I designed various "cognitive" or "mental multi-tasking" drills that overloaded the players mental abilities while performing complicated physical tasks and the result was a Western Canadian Championship. 


I have found that a player's learning ability can be pushed at a subconscious level. Much like the "pain / pleasure" reward system, a definite NEED to learn enhances learning speed. Chaos skating is a perfect example of how to teach players to skate with their head up. If they don't, they get run over. Definitely a NEED to learn environment.


A player needs to learn. If they are doing something well, are they learning. Kind of like getting 5 wrong out of ten on a math test and then going home and studying what we got right, not what we got wrong and then taking the test again. Seems to be the norm for coaches and players though. They want the breakout perfect (although there is no pressure) and the minute that pressure is introduced and the passes breakdown, every one loses it an goes crazy....hey people, now they are learning again. Encourage the learning process through challenges and make players understand that doing something wrong is okay, perfection is stagnation.


I always remember a story in the book "the Art of War" by SunTzu. Hope I get it right but you will get the point none the less. 


"Due to his reputation as a military strategist,  he was called before a war lord to prove himself.  This lord had many concubines in his service and as part of his test and a military leader, they were to be taught how to march. They were called together and were explained what was required of them.  The concubines, on command, were to march around the chamber  in columns and together which of course did not happen. They marched in chaos, laughed, joked and were in total disarray. They were called in again. Sun Tzu explained that the first time was his fault and maybe he was not clear enough. He assigned the Lord's favorite concubine as the general, a couple of the more important concubines as the lieutenants, explained again what he wanted and what he expected, order them to again march with the "general" in command.  Again, failure. Disarray, laughter and again the Lord was amused. He had heard much about Sun-Tzu and he was failing. Again, they were called in and the head concubine was called forward. Sun Tzu, explained this time that it was no longer his responsibility but that the responsibility feel on the leader's shoulders since they knew what was required of them. He pulled his sword and cleaved the "head" concubine (general's) head from her shoulders. He then assigned a new general and commanded that they marched again. This time they marched in  perfect unison. The Lord was in shock at the loss of his favourite concubine. But....... Sun Tzu became his military strategist."


Pretty severe example of the old "positive / negative" angle but as Sun Tzu states. An army or team for that matter, needs concise instructions, an objective and a very clear definition of reward and failure. The concubines knew what failure meant and this NEED to learn certainly sped up the learning process.


A more current book that one can read that re-enforces this type of learning, albeit in a more civilized way, is  called the One Minute Manager. Check in out.


Copyright 1996 by Ron Johnson. All rights reserved.