The Final Blog! Practicum reflection (Leading)

The final thought… first

I’ve decided to put my final thoughts first because something changed in my life recently and I didn’t want to completely re-write my portfolio but I thought it should be included, so here goes…

I love the Grouse Grind trail in North Vancouver, not because I like the outdoors (I don’t), but because it forces me to push myself. I’m on the mountain and the only way off is to keep climbing another 853 metres at a 31% grade… so if I want to be done, I’d better get on with it. And, because of the nature of the trail, there’s nothing to see. So I grind away, putting one foot in front of the other, until I get to the top. When I reach the top (and once my chest is done heaving) I turn around, and laid out beneath me is an incredible panoramic view of Vancouver and the Georgia Straight. But I don’t go for the view; I go for the journey up… the view is just a nice bonus.

My coaching career, up to this point, has felt a little bit like that. I dabbled in coaching hockey teams and that was fine but it wasn’t really my passion. While I was coaching teams, I didn’t have that desire to really commit to my coach education and build my skills — I was just happy to be there. Then, I started coaching officials and not only did I love it but I felt like I could make a difference. I was invested with more and more responsibility and starting climbing the ranks, from my local association to increasing responsibilities with my provincial sport organization. Then, I realized I’d hit a ceiling and so I started racking up coaching courses and NCCP points, which eventually led me here, to the HPCTL program. Throughout this process, I’ve been teaching high school, which I feel very passionate about and I’ve wanted to do since I was in high school. I never thought about my coaching journey in terms of the end product — I was perfectly happy just to be on the mountain, grinding away.

And while I’ll always be focused more on the journey than the destination, I did hit a milestone this past Tuesday, when I signed a contract to join Hockey Canada’s full-time staff. As manager of the officiating program, overseeing every one of Canada’s 35,000 ice hockey officials, from the grassroots to the Olympic-bound. I knew this job existed and, if you’d asked, I would have said “sure, it would be cool,” but I never really thought seriously about how to make that happen. Yet, as it turns out, everything that I’ve done over the last ten years has led me perfectly to this one moment, last week, when they put a contract in front of me and offered to make my passion my full-time job.

So, who knows how this will turn out? As I said to my wife, this could be the job that completely changes my life and that would be awesome. On the other hand, I could also be back in a classroom in 5 years and that would be disappointing but not the worst thing. But I’ve worked hard, especially over the last 4 years. Every week, I’ve gone to my classroom and been with my students, with the mental and emotional commitment that job demands; and then, most nights I’d come home and head off to a rink or hop on a Zoom call or answer emails or leave work on Friday and drive straight to the Okanagan or Vancouver Island for a weekend of hockey. And I loved it — it was exhausting but I loved it — and I was happy to be on that mountain, grinding away. But, at this moment, turning around to see the view from the top is pretty sweet.

So, I’m glad that I went through this practicum process so that I could leave my current program in good hands for my replacements (strong succession plan in place) and that I can jump into this new role with my head full of new ideas and my skills as sharp as they ever have been.

The Practicum Reflection

Having now completed my portfolio, mentor meeting, and final presentation, I can look back at this year with a great deal of satisfaction. Obviously, we would have preferred to go through the last year without the restrictions of the pandemic and we had to do a lot of scrambling in our coursework to accommodate those restrictions. However, I feel like this year pushed me to think outside of the box and come up with creative applications of research and interventions. This was reflected in my final portfolio and I will discuss some highlights here…

My original goals for the practicum were as follows:

  1. Construct robust performance standards for talent identification and evaluation
  2. Adapt in-game coaching protocols, in line with performance standards
  3. Framework for video coaching that engages with best practices for use of video
  4. Training camp goals & objectives to maximize efficiency
  5. Job descriptions and staff communication plans to align our growing staff

As a result of the Covid pandemic, the theme of my portfolio was more about the process of learning and development to ameliorate athletic and system gaps, rather than the accomplishment of specific objectives. Many of these objectives were simply not possible to achieve in the way that I had originally imagined. I originally drafted my objectives in late October and within six weeks, we were shut down for the season. Regardless, I believe I was able to make meaningful progress in these areas and I consolidated my objectives into four parts:

  1. Performance standards
  2. Video coaching
  3. Training camps objectives
  4. Coach Education

I won’t go into the specifics of each aspect because that is detailed in my portfolio but I will briefly cover the next steps for each.

1. Performance Standards

I made great progress on my Winning Style of Play/Refereeing and Gold Medal Profile. This is particularly important for elite referees because this level of performance planning doesn’t exist. So, a validated WSP/GMP would be extremely valuable. However, because of the lack of rigorous scholarship on officiating ice hockey, more research is required. Therefore, there are some things to consider moving forward:

  • Is the scoring system too cumbersome to apply/assess in game situations?
  • How do you ensure inter-rater reliability?
  • How do we ensure that coaches do not rely on the scoring system at the expense of anecdotal feedback
  • How should the criteria be weighted to reflect the relative importance of these skills/KPIs?

Projecting into the future, I believe the GMP will eventually split itself into two categories: game-to-game performance indicators and long-term measures of success. Game-to-game performance indicators would ultimately represent very few of the performance standards in the GMP. These are aspects that would be useful in a game-to-game measurement, including: positioning errors, penalties called/not called, communication, and emotional restraint. The second, larger, category consists of aspects that are either too difficult to measure, not relevant, or fluctuate too greatly on a game-to-game to be useful. However, measuring them over a longer period of time (i.e. over a season or an Olympic cycle) could provide us with the data to confidently rank one official above the other.

2. Video Coaching

In the last 10 years, video has gone from a luxury in amateur sport to a staple; even at a U11 game, I’ll see someone’s dad with an iPad, live-streaming the action. With this tool comes both benefits and pitfalls and the research is clear: the tool is positive, if used correctly.

The most common use of video in officiating is to identify and dissect isolated clips of a foul. However, during the 2020-21 season, I was able to implement two intervention via video-based platforms that returned promising initial results. As the season got underway, we made a group decision to limit virtual training hours, due to the uncertainty around game action and the high volume of online hours necessitated by working and attending school from home. So, our implementation was limited in terms of time and scope but the initial results present promising directions for further innovation and growth in this area. So, moving forward into next season, the question is how we can continue to use video along these lines, in addition to traditional methods.

3. Training Camp Objectives

As a geographically distributed program, our face-to-face training time is both limited and valuable. Since 2017, when I took over the program, we have held at least three centralized training camps per year and I am pushing to add a fourth.

What is interesting is that as I push to expand our training camps, other officiating programs are cutting back their offerings. In discussions with other leaders, the primary motivation for reducing or cutting training camps was cost. This is understandable and a major hurdle for our program as well. However, there was also a not-so-subtle implication that they felt training camps were not a valuable use of money and time. I find it difficult to believe that having athletes in one place for centralized training and development is not valuable. Therefore, with the greatest respect to my colleagues, I must conclude that the de-valuing of training camps is an individual issue, rather than a methodological one.

Moving forward, the objectives and training focuses that I identified, will help us quantify the progress made from our training camps. Have we hit our objectives? Are we maximizing the efficacy of our limited face-to-face training time? Moreover, if there is the possibility to secure additional funding, our objectives will help us justify that additional funding.

4. Coach Education

The initial objectives around the topic of coaching were around in-game coaching protocols and management of the coaching staff. However, one result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is that there were few, if any, takeaways from this season from an in-game coaching perspective. One of my goals in undertaking a Master’s degree was to elevate the practice of coaching within the officiating community. To that end, my involvement in the HPCTL program has been invaluable. My professional training is as a teacher and in education, we talk about the concept of a “community of practice”. Because “officiating coaching” is in its infancy, I have struggled to find that community of practice in my hockey circles. However, coming into the HPCTL program, a space that is designed to be multi-sport, I found an opportunity to discuss and share with my peers who were also approaching the practice of coaching form a high conceptual level.

The concept of coach education obviously extends beyond the high performance level, and I believe it will be the rising tide that lifts all boats. A coach education initiative that addresses all levels of the game will naturally raise the quality of coaching and create that community of practice that is not exclusive to the high performance sphere. The appetite for education is there; I’ve seen it first-hand. It is a failing of PSOs and the NSO that the framework doesn’t already exist. I am looking forward to being an architect of this framework in our officiating community of practice.

Tying it All Together

The biggest change that I’ve noticed in my coaching context over the last 12-24 months is that people are catching up. Previously, I would present to a room and everyone would look around and nod and say “wow, yeah, we’d never thought of that”. Now, I present to a room and people ask clarifying questions — they challenge me. As people working in high performance sport, we know that no matter how much you hold yourself accountable, having other people pushing you is what will take you to a whole other level. So I’m looking forward to my new job, where I will have the opportunity to surround myself with the best and relish the challenges that lay ahead. Thank you, everyone, for reading along and joining me on this journey. Hopefully, we’ll see each other back here in September.

Innovative Practice for Mental Training (Interacting)

Gap Analysis

This past year feels like one, ongoing gap analysis. The more I’ve learned, the more gaps I see and it’s like I’m just trying to catch up my programming with my learning. Part of my drive and why I’m in this program is to address the gaps that people in my field aren’t currently addressing: tactics, as I’ve written about previously, is one but mental skills are the other. When it comes to mental skills, there is this idea that an official either has it or doesn’t. There’s no reason to believe that attitude is because decision-makers don’t value mental skills – no one with whom I’ve spoken has ever denied the importance of mental skills. Rather, this programming gap stems from a lack of expertise and understanding of how to build those skills.

The result is that mental skills are something that is “addressed” rather than built. Once a year, a performance “expert” (using the term expert very loosely, in some cases) makes a presentation at a training camp. This is usually something along the lines of “here are four tools to use in [X] situation”. It’s less of a mental training program and more the personification of a self-help Instagram post. We never really progress beyond the basics and there is no sense that we are building towards a defined end goal. This reality is reflected in the Hockey Canada officiating performance standards, in which the only mental skills measured are “attitude” and “reaction to pressure”. These are intended to be rated on a scale of 0-5 and 0-10 respectively but without clear benchmarks through which to make those judgements. No standardization means no reliable data, to which one could fairly ask: what’s even the point?

This system gap creates an athletic gap. Officials not only lack the mental skills to perform but also any clear idea of how to build those skills. They may take the disparate skills picked up from a lecture here or a webinar there and try to apply them on their own but, even if they achieve a modicum of success, they have no real way of measuring that success. The outcomes of this situation are threefold: 1) officials are left to succeed and fail based on their natural mental talents; 2) officials who have other skills come up against an invisible barrier and fail to progress/leave the program out of frustration; and 3) a further system gap is created because the program may invest in officials and subsequently promote them, only to have them fail because their mental skills were insufficient for that next level. Therefore, it is in the best interests of all parties to ensure a robust framework for the training and evaluation of mental skills.

Establishing the Baseline

As discussed in the previous section, current practices up to this point have left us with no baseline. Therefore, we cannot even ask what we should expect in terms of mental performance for an elite official and how we might measure it. One of the key limitations of my Gold Medal Profile assignment for KIN 515, particularly in the psychological domains, is that while I drew my benchmarks from scholarly, peer-reviewed research, I was necessarily transferring concepts and models from other sporting domains – often combining or using related but separate methods to infer conclusions. As a result, my program objective is to begin establishing baseline methods and results that can be used to produce useable data and conclusions.

My athlete objective is obviously to improve the mental skills of the athletes. In the hopes of measuring this baseline, I am using a multi-sport tool, known as the Referee Self-Efficacy Scale (Myers et al., 2013). This tool has been validated across a variety of sporting contexts and the officials have completed this recently and will complete it again prior to the start of the season. In the absence of more comprehensive baseline readings, I hope that this will provide me with some measure of whether or not these interventions are successful.

Session #1

In order to begin this process, I proposed an ideal outcome, based on Clough, Earle, & Sewell’s (2002) “4 Cs” of mental toughness. We want our athletes to possess confidence, which is drawn from a commitment to maintaining the course through stress, the belief that they have control over their experiences, and the view of stress as a challenge that is a natural part of their development. Elite officials naturally possess a sense of control, as the very discipline commits to enforcing order on the chaos of sport and the female officials in this group are inherently committed because they came through male-dominated environments, experiencing discrimination as well as natural obstacles, to reach this point. Therefore, I drew our focus to the view that stress is a challenge that is a natural part of development.

One thing I was conscious of, particularly in the context of an ongoing, 14-month global pandemic, was that I didn’t want the officials to feel discouraged – as if we were starting from zero. As we build towards the 4Cs, I wanted to present a framework in which the officials already had a most of the tools they needed, even if we still had a long way to go. To that end, I looked to Jackson, Beauchamp, & Dimmock’s (2020) four antecedents of self-efficacy beliefs: prior experience, positive feedback from “important others”, observation of other performing successfully, and feeling in a desirable physiological and mental state prior to performance. I illustrated how and why they all possessed the first three and we were going to focus on the last one: ensuring they could consistently feel in a desirable state, prior to competition.

We spent the balance of the first session trying to describe their “desirable states”. I had asked them to prepare by thinking about competition situations where they felt good. We focused on the emotional and cognitive aspects, thinking of the pre-competition state, rather than the competitive performance itself. For the most part, athletes were able to recall those performances fairly easily. One minor area of concern was the number of aspects that involved another person (for example, feeling comfort with a particular teammate) as team assignments are outside of the athlete’s control, particularly at the national and international levels. However, irrespective of this concern, the next step will be to analyze where those feelings and thoughts come from, so that they can be replicated.

Session #2

This session was really an extension of the previous one. The goal of Session #1 was to describe the ideal pre-competitive state, the goal of Session #2 was to analyze the “why/how” behind that state. It should be noted that our methodology is driven by Hanin’s “Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning” and the notion that while there are universal “goalposts”, the definition of the ideal pre-competitive state is ultimately determined by the athlete. From that perspective, the why/how of the pre-competitive state is where the coach expertise becomes important – both from the perspective of sporting expertise but also by facilitating the production of information.

The process was highly repetitive, so I won’t re-hash the entire thing, both for the reader’s sanity and for mine. But some common statements and clarifying questions include:

  • I felt rested.
  • How much did you sleep? What was your sleep quality? What time did you go to bed and get up? Did you have a nap prior to the game? Were you at work or school? What was your training like on the day before? Did you feel ready walking into the building or did you get ready through your warm-up?


  • I was excited for the game itself.
  • What were you excited for? In your mind, when you imagine a “good” hockey game, what are you thinking of? What does that look like when the puck goes down?


  • I felt focused/in control.
  • What does “focus” (or lack of focus) look like? What specifically are you focusing on? Are you consciously or unconsciously focusing? Did you do anything to get “focused”?

As we progressed through the second session, I was a little concerned at the lack of depth of some of the answers. Admittedly, it is difficult to run through these in a virtual, group setting. However, at this point in the ongoing global pandemic, I refuse to continue deferring crucial tasks to a hypothetical future date when we can gather in-person. Moreover, despite my presentation of a framework in which the officials already had the majority of the skills required for success, the reality is that we are starting from zero from a deliberate practice perspective. These athletes have never been asked to interrogate their own performance to this extent. So, there is reason to believe that more deliberate self-reflection will yield improved results, which will allow us to progress to the next phase.

Moving From Pre-Competitive State to Competitive State

The ultimate goal of this process is to produce an individual mental performance checklist that officials can begin to utilize when exhibition games resume (hopefully) in August/September. Once we have the ideal pre-competitive state finalized, we will shift to the competition itself. As mentioned previously, one of the four antecedents of self-efficacy beliefs is prior experience. However, in officiating, there will always be a new experience or an experience that is not directly analogous to a previous experience. An official will arrive at a National or World Championship and they have no pre-competition environment to “get a feel” for the action and the teams. This is particularly true at the international level, as officials can be promoted through the pyramid year-after-year. However, the end result is that an official may step on the ice at a certain level for the first time and their performance in that game could make or break their entire tournament. Naturally, this can be rather anxiety-inducing and, as a program, we see it as our responsibility to prepare officials for that reality.

Although we aren’t yet ready to move from thinking about the pre-competitive to thinking about the competitive, I have a few considerations in my mind that will inform our progress. The first is that refereeing places a heavy cognitive load on officials. Their primary task, which is to ensure a safe and fair game, relies primarily on cognitive skills. The physical actions of officiating are more of a facilitator than anything else. Therefore, the goal of training must be to automatize as much of their actions as we can, because it is simply impossible to consciously think through every action while shouldering the cognitive demands of an elite hockey game. At a certain point, an official has to look at a play and just know where they need to be, without consciously considering all the variables.

The second consideration is that external focus facilitates the production of effective and efficient movements (Sabiston, Pila, & Gilchrist, 2020). So, while our current mental training is highly internally-focused, once we have a handle on that, we should be shifting focus to external checkpoints that indicate successful application of mental skills. The third consideration is that despite the importance of prior experience in developing self-efficacy beliefs, an individual can elicit emotions just as strongly from imagining a scenario as they can from remembering a real scenario (Janelle, Fawver, & Beatty, 2020). With that in mind, it should be possible to effectively train mental skills that will be activated during games, even during the preparatory phase.

Future Directions

The process that I have outlined above is planned to take us from April through to early September, when our competitive phase usually begins. Of course, this comes with the now-mandatory disclaimer that the success of any plan, no matter how intelligently thought out, hinges on the whims of the Covid pandemic but hope springs eternal. By the time we enter our competitive phase, these officials should have detailed performance plans for ideal pre-competitive and competitive mental states.

Presumably, improved mental skills will benefit their performance, which is, of course, the ultimate objective of all of this. However, it will also provide us, as a program, with baseline readings. We will re-administer the Referee Self-Efficacy Scale at the conclusion of this process, which will hopefully reflect a positive change. Additionally, as the competitive phase gets underway, we will begin administering the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory 2R questionnaire prior to each game, which will help us measure the anxiety and self-confidence of the officials prior to entering the competitive environment. By ensuring that athletes are educated and trained in their mental preparation, we can begin to critically evaluate not only our programming but their responses and performances.

The true challenge is that I cannot see inside these athletes’ heads. I can provide an empirically-based framework and expert guidance but the ultimate success depends on the ability of the athletes to interrogate themselves and their own practices. As control freak detail-orientated person, that uncertainty hangs over my planning like a dark cloud. Having said that, I am blessed with a focused, resilient group of athletes and I am confident that we can do it. Ultimately, I believe establishing this baseline will open up new roads for us in terms of research and programming with the ultimate goal of performance excellence on the ice.



Works Cited

Clough, P. J., Earle, K., & Sewell, D. (2002) Mental Toughness: The Concept and Its Measurement. In I. Cockerill (Ed.), Solutions in Sport Psychology (pp. 32-43). London: Thomson.

Cox, R. H., Martens, M. P., & Russell, W. D. (2003). Measuring anxiety in athletics: The revised competitive state anxiety Inventory–2. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 25(4), 519-533.

Myers, N. D., Feltz, D. L., Guillén, F., & Dithurbide, L. (2012). Development of, and initial validity evidence for, the referee self-efficacy scale: A multistudy report. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 34(6), 737-765.

Ruiz, M. C., Raglin, J. S., & Hanin, Y. L. (2017). The individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) model (1978-2014): Historical overview of its development and use. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 15(1), 41-63.

Tenenbaum, G., Eklund, R. C., Wiley Online Library, & Wiley Frontlist All Obook 2020. (2020). Handbook of sport psychology (Fourth ed.). Wiley.

Communicating with Empathy and Constructiveness During the Pandemic (Valuing)

It doesn’t take an expert psychologist to figure out that the stressors of the pandemic are creating a negative impact on people’s mental health. Nevertheless, the evidence is there; people are struggling not only with the stress of the Covid pandemic but also the restrictions that have been put in place to protect us from the virus. Obviously, this has extended into our sporting contexts, as restrictions affect our ability to form teams, practice, and play games.

In my sporting context, this is compounded by the jobs that my officials hold simultaneously with their athletic pursuits. Of our seven NextGen officials, four work in education, healthcare, or law enforcement; two work in retail; the other is a full-time first-year undergraduate student. So all of these young women are following their training plans, they are working with me via Zoom, and they are holding the stresses of their full-time responsibilities. I want to praise them for being resilient but I also dislike how resilience has become a buzzword in our society that prioritizes “pushing through” over actually making changes to support people. Nevertheless, they have shown strength and dedication and I am proud of them for that.

Despite this strength, there have been moments of challenge. Recently, one of our athletes, Lisa*, approached me with a problem. Lisa was feeling that another one of our athletes was not conducting herself appropriately in their athletes-only group chat. The purpose of the group chat, which the athletes set up on their own, is to provide a platform for them to stay in touch with each other and share life updates, successes, and challenges. Lisa didn’t say which of her teammates she was talking about but from the particulars of the story, it was easy for me to infer who was causing the issue.

Michelle* works in law enforcement and although this has been her goal for a while, she’s been in the job for two years and it’s not what she was expecting. She frequently talks to me about her options as far as re-focusing her career but feels stuck in her present situation. On top of that, her job has obviously become a lot more stressful during the pandemic. As Lisa* shared with me, the unnamed individual was clearly experiencing a lot of stress at work but was taking it out in the group chat. This is how I knew she was talking about Michelle. Instead of interacting with her teammates, she was dumping her work stress into the group chat in the form of “overwhelming negativity” (Lisa’s words). Additionally, some of the experiences that Michelle is sharing run the risk of violating privacy and professional standards and Lisa is worried that this could get Michelle in trouble professionally. Moreover, Lisa is now avoiding the group chat (turning off notifications, going days without checking it) because it was becoming a source of stress, rather than a mechanism for positive connection with her teammates.

Lisa’s question was simple but not easy to address: “how do I communicate that I support and care about my teammate while also expressing that I find her way of expressing it really detrimental to my experience in our team environment?” Michelle looks to Lisa as both a friend and a colleague and Lisa doesn’t want to damage that relationship but she also knows she needs to save the relationship. Lisa also knows that I look to her as a leader within the group and feels some responsibility to address this issue before it becomes a greater issue.

When Lisa shared this dilemma with me, she was very clear that she wanted to handle it herself. This was an athlete-to-athlete issue within the athlete-only group chat and she wanted to keep it that way. So, as we chatted, I provided her with two possible avenues or pieces of advice.

My first piece of advice was for Lisa to be self-centred. I felt like Lisa’s best chance of addressing this conflict was to speak in self-first language to prevent Michelle from feeling attacked or judged. Moreover, Lisa indicated that she was perfectly willing to have Michelle share her frustrations and be a pillar for Michelle to lean on but perhaps in a more constructive way.

So rather than approaching from a “you shouldn’t be doing this” perspective, which is valid but likely unhelpful, I recommended that Lisa bring in language that centred her own experience. If Lisa can help Michelle see that Lisa is also struggling and looking to the group chat as a place of distraction and positivity, that will give Michelle a positive reason to change and re-orient her behaviour.

For example:

    1. I recognize that you are in a really stressful situation because of the pandemic.
    2. I value our relationship and want to remain close, including being there to support you during this time.
    3. I’m finding that when you share frustrations related to your job, they often coincide with when I am also feeling frustration and looking to be distracted. So seeing it in the group chat can really bring me down when I’m already feeling frustrated or discouraged.
    4. With that in mind, I am happy to be a pillar and support you. Could we arrange for a weekly call when we can vent about our frustrations? Or could you text me directly when you need to vent, rather than putting it in the group chat?

I suspected that Michelle wasn’t truly aware of the extent to which she was dumping her negative emotions into the group chat. If that was true, this approach would provide Michelle with an “easy out” where she could modify her behaviour without having to admit that she was wrong in the first place.

However, I also recognized that the first part may not achieve the desired result and it’s always good to have a backup plan. Fortunately, back in October, we spent a great deal of time building an athlete agreement for this exact situation. As I wrote about in a previous post, I set aside a chunk of our precious and expensive centralization time for the athlete agreement because I wanted to accomplish four key goals:

    • Clarify and commit to group values
    • Express those values in terms concrete behaviours
    • Provide a basis for communication and resolution of conflict throughout the season
    • Create a document to ground the program as athlete-centred and guided by values, rather than rules, as detailed in my coaching philosophy

Rather than a traditional athlete agreement, this was more about providing mutually agreed-upon framework for the operation of the program and the athlete’s interactions with both the coaching staff and their teammates. Not only did everyone agree to the four fundamental values but Michelle was one of the ones who brought forward the values of teamwork and constructiveness.

The four fundamental values of the program, as recommended by the athletes, and detailed by the athlete agreement.

With that in mind, the athlete agreement would provide Lisa with a backup. This was something that they had agreed to, not something that had been imposed upon them. I didn’t expect Michelle to push back against Lisa but if so, there was something more concrete, a specific set of values to which all members of the group were equally accountable.

Throughout this process, I was impressed with Lisa for keeping the values of the agreement at the forefront of her own thought processes. She was committed to maintaining a positive environment, which would allow all members of the group to grow their passion, and was prepared to hold both herself and her teammates accountable to prioritizing teamwork above all else. More than anything, Michelle was violating one of the values but not out of a lack of care but out of deep-seated frustration with a situation over which she has no control. Something with which we can all empathize and hopefully, move forward from.



*Not their real names

When the Research Doesn’t Exist: Finding creative solutions to research gaps in sport (Problem Solving)

The Background

It is my opinion that tactical knowledge is the most complex performance skill to teach. You want to skate better? Go to a rink and skate. You want improve your hitting? Go to a field and hit baseballs. It may not be easy but it’s certainly simple. Now obviously, the type of coaching you receive is a factor and, at some point, anthropometric factors and talent would limit you but ultimately, the process is very straightforward. By contrast, tactical understanding is a nebulous concept. As a coach or an athlete, you’re not only training decision-making but the factors that lead into making a decision.

In discussions with coaches across BC, the complaint I hear most often is that an official “doesn’t understand the game” or “has no game-sense”. There are a number of situations that could trigger this complaint: an official might have called a penalty that was perceived as unnecessary, they might have been in the wrong position, or they may have responded to a coach or player in a way that was perceived to be inappropriate. Regardless of the specifics, the core complaint is that the official lacks a comprehensive tactical knowledge of the game of hockey. In conversations with decision-makers in elite officiating development programs at the NSO and Major Junior (U21) level, the most frequent reported reason for an official’s release from the program/league staff was lack of “game sense” or “hockey IQ”, terms that are synonyms for tactical knowledge.

An ongoing source of frustration for me has been that our our key decision-makers and trainers have no idea how to train tactical knowledge. If an official is lacking in tactical knowledge, they are told “go and fix that”. No resources, no training, no clear direction on the how. So, in practice, an official either fixes it by stumbling around in the dark (so to speak) and progresses, or they crash out. As people within the officiating discipline push to create a culture of coaching, these systems gaps (and really a lack of desire to close them) are a huge obstacle that must be overcome.

What I discovered as I dove into the research is that there is not a clear methodology for teaching tactical understanding. More specifically, there is not a methodology that has been tested by empirical research and is “proven” to improve competition performance. There are plenty of studies that attempt to measure or improve tactical knowledge in various sports but none that actually compare the teaching methodology to on-field/court/ice performance. So a player might improve their tactical knowledge (as measured through an out-of-competition test) over the course of an intervention but there’s no evidence that improving tactical knowledge (as measured by the study) actually improves performance in competitions.

Planning the Intervention

So I am left with a lot of interesting information and ideas but no way of knowing what will work. Fortunately(?), due to the pandemic, I have an endless amount of time between now and the next ”meaningful” competition. For my officials, this will likely be a Hockey Canada national championship in early 2022 and/or the 2021-22 slate of IIHF world championships. So I am going to embark on a quasi-experiment to test the efficacy of one of the methods proposed by the body of research.

I won’t detail the entire methodology here but essentially, the intervention centered around video-based debriefs of volleyball players on the Spanish national team. ( Each debrief followed three phases: first, the player watched the clip three times to try and put themselves back in the game context of the action, with help to remember the score, the moment in the set and match. Second, the player scored their performance on a scale of 0-10 with 0 being totally incorrect, and 10 being totally correct. Third, the athlete analyzed and evaluated their decision-making process, including causes and reasons for the decisions they made.

The protocol itself was quite simple. The players were asked only one question: “what were you thinking about while playing that point?” The authors coded the athletes’ response to this question according to a three-level conceptual framework, validated by previous research. Level 1 was conceptual content of the response, or how well athletes were able to communicate the goal, the situation, and the action they undertook. Level 2 was conceptual sophistication of the response, or how well the athlete understood their action in the context of their own skill, their teammates, opponents, and the game as a whole. Level 3 was conceptual structure, or how well athletes were able to link concepts to each other. This allowed the authors to analyze responses according to a variety of variables that would indicate level of tactical knowledge.

What was missing from this study was a linkage to the athlete’s on-court performance. While all the players were performing at the requisite level for inclusion into the Spanish National Team, it would have been useful to have in-game performance measured alongside the intervention. Despite the observed improvements in athletes’ expression of tactical knowledge during debriefs, there is no mechanism for measuring whether their tactical decision-making improved There are several possible avenues for this: their coaches or an external expert could have evaluated the athlete’s performance according to a rubric or the individual athletes’ performance could have been measured through kills, attack errors, or hitting efficiency, as the situations recorded and evaluated pertained specifically to attacking plays.

Despite this limitation, the methodology seems plausible and fits with the tools I have at my disposal. Currently, video feedback is the primary vehicle for tactical training in officiating. Moreno’s research not only validates the concept but provides a useful structure for achieving tactical-cognitive improvements in elite sport. Given officiating’s historical overreliance on the “eye test” as a method of game performance evaluation, this framework will be vital to introducing empirical validity to performance evaluation in officiating. I have adapted the rubrics from the study to an officiating-specific context so that I can measure conceptual content and conceptual sophistication. The conceptual structure doesn’t need to be adapted because it’s simply measuring how categories/concepts are linked together in the officials’ verbal responses.

Now What?

Obviously, the objective of the intervention is to improve the tactical knowledge of the officials in my program so that they can challenge at the top level of national and international competition. Through the Winning Style of Play assignment, I’ve produced categories of statistical analysis for tactical decision making. Although the benchmarks need further study to be considered valid, I feel very comfortable using the categories of evaluation that were developed based on our national standards and my “expert” judgement.

What this means is that I have the ability to look at past game tape (which I started doing as I was developing the WSP) and grade officials according to the WSP categories. Then, when we return to the ice in September/October 2021 (fingers crossed) and begin regular season play, I will be able to evaluate if their tactical decision-making has improved according to those metrics. It’s not foolproof but it’s also not a fully authorized study and I’m running this all by myself, so I’m okay with balancing efficacy with realism.

Ultimately, I am predicting this evidence-backed intervention will produce an improvement in the on-ice displays of tactical knowledge of the officials in my program. I am also hoping that by going through this process, I will learn more about methodologies for teaching tactics and will also collect data that will help validate my WSP statistics. Finally, this may be an avenue for further research and lead to the opportunity to run a study that will be able to validate these methodologies in a hockey officiating context. When I do a lot of research on a narrow range of topics, I see the same names crop up over and over again… perhaps that could be me in the future?

Beyond a Winning Style of Play: Introducing statistical analysis to refereeing (Critical Thinking)


When Dr. Van Neutegem set us to work on the PRT/WSP assignment, I was excited. Out of the assignments we undertake in the graduate certificate, this was probably the one to which I’d been looking forward the most. Generally-speaking, hockey is basically still in the dark ages of using data and evidence to make decisions; there are still NHL teams who don’t employ a single staff member to collect and analyze data. While this might seem like a commitment to mediocrity, the truth is that hockey is so conservative and slow to change that most people simply don’t believe data can help you perform. There are still respected coaches and executives in hockey whose idea of “data” is tracking goals, assists, and shots. That’s the general landscape but my passion and my area of true expertise is in refereeing, which is even further behind.

The reason I am here, in this program, is to bring refereeing out of the dark ages. Hockey is one of the few sports where refereeing is an athletic pursuit; other examples would be soccer, rugby, and (to a lesser extent) basketball. Rugby and soccer lead the way in terms of research and data-driven analysis of their referees. Over the last twelve months, I have been devouring their research on physical attributes, decision-making, and psychology to inform my own research. Ultimately, my goal is to progress to the Master’s program and conduct research to validate the models that I have started to build as part of this course.

The Winning Style of Refereeing

I won’t recap my entire WSP presentation or the process that led me there because it is clearly explained with corresponding visuals in my presentation. Instead, I will simply summarize my findings and move on but you’re welcome to skip the section to get to the meat of the post.

My primary objective was to measure decision-making ability. Decision-making isn’t the only factor. Hockey officiating is physically-demanding: not only do you have to be a good, technical skater but you also have to be extremely fit because you’ll be skating three twenty-minute periods without the same breaks that players have. Having said that, there are plenty of ways to measure physical fitness and realistically, nobody is reaching this level with deficiencies in their fitness. I’ve actually discontinued on-ice fitness testing in my program because it’s completely useless. At the elite level, everyone’s scores are so close to one another that it’s not an effective way of evaluating officials. So, while decision-making is not the only factor, it is the most important and the one on which I needed to focus my attention.

 I created four statistics and I hypothesized they would measure decision-making. Those three statistics were duels, penalty points per decision, non-penalty points per decision, and positioning errors per 60 minutes of play (to account for games that went to overtime). The original idea (and term) of “duels” came from soccer. Opta defines a soccer duel as a “50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides in the match”. That still wasn’t specific enough for me, particularly because there’s more physical contact in hockey (even women’s hockey) than there is in soccer. I settled on defining a hockey duel as “any time a player uses their body or stick to apply opposite-directional force to an opponent”. The difference is small but crucial. There is so much body contact in a game that without the “opposite-directional” qualifier, my model would award referees so many points for unpenalized duels that it would completely invalidate the statistic.

Points Per Penalty Decision (PPD) validated my hypothesis; the three referees I identified scored extremely well. It would appear that this category is a workable way of measuring officiating performance.

Points Per Non-Penalty Decision (NPPD) were all over the place and I couldn’t identify any rhyme or reason for why that was. One possibility is that my categorization and weighting isn’t quite right; the other is that the sample is too small to draw conclusions. It’s also possible that this is just an exclusion criterion: i.e. if you can’t consistently hit a certain number of NPPD, you shouldn’t be at this level but over and above that benchmark won’t buy you any extra credit. Either way, an area for further research.

Positioning Errors Per 60 Minutes (PE/60) also validated my hypothesis, although it didn’t appear that way at first. As you can see on the right side of the graph, one of the best-performing referees (the lowest number of PE/60) was not one of the referees that I expected. So, I thought about why that might be and considered the intensity of the game. Is seems likely that the more intense the game, the more likely a referee is to make positioning errors; a more intense game is more difficult to predict, which means a higher probability of errors. So I compared the number of duels per game to the PE/60 and that showed a clear trend that matched with my hypothesis.

Dr. Van Neutegem’s Feedback

I was pretty pleased with the outcome of my WSP project. It was a smaller sample size than I had originally hoped for but that was out of my control and ultimately, I felt like I’d created something credible that could be the basis for further research. Having said that, Dr. Van Neutegem is literally the ultimate arbiter for a WSP in Canada, so I was a little nervous about submitting it and awaiting his feedback. Especially since he set his deadline for Christmas and while I’m not a huge celebrator of Christmas, a low mark on this assignment would put a bit of a damper on the holiday. Fortunately, his feedback was pretty positive and I’m going to address it point-by-point here as a way of leading into the next steps.


On LTAD and transfer of WSP concept to refereeing…

  • AVN: Arguably, your Pathway is based more on their qualifications and decision-making levels, and possibly the type (intensity?) and number of matches officiated.  I would resist any notion of ascribing a referee pathway to align with the athlete pathway.  A referee who officiates a T2W athlete match (e.g Olympic finals) is not a T2W referee unless the benchmarks associated with that athlete stage have been defined and probably more than just the fact that they were selected to an Olympic final.
  • DH: This is interesting because I had been trying to conform an idea of refereeing LTAD to the athlete pathway template for ease of transfer (i.e. making it easy to explain what I’m doing and what level of athlete I’m working with). But Andy is suggesting that I build out a completely separate pathway that is more focused on benchmarks. Either way, we don’t have an NSO-defined pathway in refereeing (because we’ve never taken coaching seriously at all levels) and that is an area for growth.


On scoring duels and decision-making…

  • AVN: I am assuming that the evaluation matrix [for duels] would be based on consensus of peers assessing the decision?  How do we achieve validity regarding the evaluation?
  • DH: This is something that I would undertake as part of a thesis-level project but the short answer is yes, to have a panel of experts presented with clips and individually judge the decisions. For the WSP, I was the only one judging the decisions as correct or incorrect but I work with our leadership at the provincial and national level and feel confident that my assessments would match with consensus. I would realistically have to pay people for their time and that’s something that would need funding of some kind.


  • AVN: You did a great job acknowledge the limitations and determining a plausible model or proof of concept.  Perhaps you can grade the intensity of each duel (e.g. involving 2 or more players) and ascribing an evaluation to the situation in an algorithmic assessment.
  • DH: This is an interesting idea. Obviously, any part of the assessment that could be delegated to an algorithm would be great. However, I’m not sure that having more players involved (particularly in women’s hockey) actually increases the intensity or the difficulty. But it would be something worth exploring as part of a larger project.


On inclusion and exclusion criteria

  • AVN: You assessed several referees based on their medal performances.  Arguably you made the assumption that their consistent appearance at medal matches in major competitions defined them as top referees.  You retro-fitted the decision-making assessment to validate your assumption.  In the future, the decision-making scores should be the definition of ‘top’ referee.
  • DH: Absolutely agreed with Andy here and this is a major limitation of my project from a validity perspective. My WSP is not “valid” from a scientific perspective. I had to work with the video that was available to me and I hypothesized that a select few referees who are generally-accepted to be the top in the world would come out ahead of the other referees. In a thesis-level project, an entire tournament would be watched and evaluated using the model and then the “top” referees would be determined based upon the objective evaluation.

In applying the model across all levels of competition as a true WSP

  • AVN: Context is important and as mentioned, a ‘junior’ referee could achieve the same benchmark for their performance context as a ‘senior’ referee. Is this defendable? If you approach your benchmarks as being universal, it will require a defined set of criteria to demarcate the levels of referee performance/context. Not all Olympic finals could be difficult to officiate if the number of duels and severity is low.  Perhaps a junior official could manage that game given the fact that it is only the speed of the game that probably differentiates the highest standard of play from other levels of play.  Conversely, a junior game (e.g. Canada Games final) could be extremely difficult to referee (more so than the Olympics perhaps) if the duels are high in number and very competitive.  Again, perhaps duels need to be more defined, and different gradations given.
  • DH: Andy makes a good point. One the acknowledged limitations in my presentation was that I do not have a concrete way to compare the level of play between the U18 national, U18 international, and senior international levels. My thought is that these would have to be built on player attributes: weight, skating speed, shot power, etc. Everything else is relative; Andy mentioned grading duels but ultimately U18 players going against U18 players won’t be as intense as Senior players going against Senior players. I don’t really know how else to do that, although someone who works in analytics in another sport might have some useful advice. Ultimately, I envision the benchmarks as being universal: i.e. a referee at the U18 level should meet the benchmark in order to move to the Senior level, at which point, they probably won’t hit that benchmark right away.

Where to Now? Next Steps

So now I’m left with thinking about the next steps. I believe this introduction of statistical performance analysis can actually change the game. At present, there is no objective way to analyze the performance of a referee and that leads to all kind of problems, both internally and externally. Internally, there’s no way for a referee to judge their own progress and often times, the final decision of whether a referee is given the opportunity to progress to the international level or turn professional (men only), is based on personal preference of decision-makers. Externally, it’s extremely difficult to justify decisions to teams, league officials, or the public.

So what are the next steps between where I am now and the conclusion of Year 3 of the HPCTL program, where I have a validated model that I can credibly “sell” to Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation?

Interim Actions

  1. Establish a way of measuring game intensity. As I found, and Andy reinforced, referee performances cannot be compared to one another without having a way to quantify the intensity of the game. To that end, I will need to…
    1. Conducting a second “test” with a small, non-valid sample size to explore the possibility of grading duels and seeing if I can come up with something that makes sense. Andy suggested grading duels based on the number of players involved. I’m not sure if that would work but it’s worth a try. Perhaps, it would also make sense to separate and weight stick-duels vs. body-duels. Again, I have no idea if that would actually reflect the intensity of the game, but it’s probably worth a try.
    2. Obtain physical testing data from Hockey Canada regarding their national team players. As I said previously, I don’t think there’s any way to compare the U18 National, U18 International, and Senior International levels without comparing the players’ physical attribute. I’m thinking bodyweight, skating speed, and shot power would be good measurements to average out and then use as comparison points. Hockey Canada does extensive testing on their athletes and so, if I agree to non-disclosure of confidential information, they might agree to allow me access to the data for the purpose of creating a model.
  2. Identification of secondary benchmarks through the Gold Medal Profile. Decision-making is obviously the most important and physical benchmarks are not particularly useful at this level. But are there secondary benchmarks that could be included or used to inform my analysis and are there other sports from which I could borrow?
    1. I’m particularly interested in other sports because, as Andy said, there is no reason to use statistics from hockey as my point of reference. If I borrowed and adapted duels from soccer, there’s no reason to assume I can’t borrow other ideas from other sports.
    2. The world of scholarship on refereeing is not particularly helpful here… one focus of rugby/soccer has been evaluating the distance between the referee and the play that they have to judge as a foul or a legal play. There are two problems with that: 1) the research says that distance doesn’t matter once you’re within a certain range; and 2) those studies were conducted using GPS technology and hockey is an indoor sport. So, while I could theoretically do distance-evaluation via photogrammetry, this isn’t something that could be delegated to an algorithm and I don’t believe would be worth the incredible amount of time it would take to execute.
  3. Continue to build out the LTAD pathway. As I discussed in my presentation, the pathway for referees to progress is very clear; it’s an A to B to C pathway. The challenge is how performances, which would allow a referee to progress, are judged. I’m not going to fix that by drawing out an LTAD pathway but having that be made very clear is useful.

Setting Up the Project

  1. Identify a competition(s) with an appropriate sample-size that would allow correlations to be more clearly drawn. I’m thinking the Senior and U18 Women’s World Championship would be ideal. That would give me a total of 51 games (22 U18, 29 Senior) across two competitions through which to draw conclusions. These would also work because they would be professionally broadcast and video could be analyzed from multiple angles. By comparison, a domestic competition like Canada Winter Games or a U18 National Championship is often webcast with a single camera, which would not allow for accurate judgements.
  2. Recruit a panel of experts to judge duels. Again, I’m not sure what the appropriate size for a panel would be; 3 people independently scoring each duel? My initial observations identified an average of 92 duels per game. If we’re talking about 51 games, that’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4000-5000 duels to judge and each one needs to be judged by multiple people. I would definitely need some kind of funding to pay people with expertise to participate. So that’s something to consider.
  3. Identify an appropriate software for viewing and cataloguing these duels. I have no idea what similar studies have used but I would need something that is capable of storing this data, as well as the panel’s judgements without allowing them to see that. I suppose that could also be done manually but that transfers the risk of inaccurate record-keeping to the members of the panel (and myself) and would require manual analysis of the data once compiled, which may not be the best use of time. Like with #2, this one may come down to a question of time and money.


What do you think? Are there any implications or big questions I’m missing as I look to move forward with this project?


Interacting: Creating the Athlete Agreement

One of the highlights of my autumn (that didn’t have a lot of positives) was the opportunity to gather our seven EXCEL (NextGen) officials for a training camp in October. Technology has been a lifesaver during this pandemic; however, technology has limits. Friends, colleagues, athletes (and myself, as well) have reported being “zoomed out” pretty consistently from July onwards. Therefore, I felt it was critical for us to gather in-person prior to re-focus ahead of a highly disrupted season.

The training camp was 52 hours of intense physical and mental training that could not have been accomplished remotely but the one piece that I want to focus on in this post is the creation of our first athlete agreement. This is not something that I had embarked upon previously because my coaching context is so diverse: I’m working day-to-day with individuals from sixteen to forty-five years of age across the Train to Train, Train to Compete, and Competitive for Life contexts. Under those diverse circumstances, it’s difficult to come to a shared understanding. However, I don’t want to coach in a context where I am the one driving the expectations because ultimately, it is the athletes who have to do the work and it is their conceptions of success or failure that drive our program goals and my coaching goals.

So with that in mind, our EXCEL group was an opportunity create an athlete agreement that would actually bind the group together in a useful way as we move forward. Our EXCEL athletes have similar goals, along the lines of achieving success in international competition. The similarity of their goals and the level of commitment required to achieve those goals lend themselves to the creation of an athlete agreement. Entering into the weekend, we set aside several hours on both Saturday and Sunday to address the athlete agreement. In talking with my assistant coach, we had two key goals:

  • Clarify and commit to group values
  • Express those values in terms concrete behaviours
  • Provide a basis for communication and resolution of conflict throughout the season
  • Create a document to ground the program as athlete-centred and guided by values, rather than rules, as detailed in my coaching philosophy

When we gathered in camp, I explained the task. I explained that my actions were guided by my core value and my purpose. So the objective of building the athlete agreement was to create a foundational document that would guide our program towards each individual achieving their goals both inside and outside of sport.

I pre-loaded the group with some background and some reflective questions, as I have detailed  above, to provide some guidance. For this exercise, I chose a “nominal group” facilitation technique (NCCP, Coaching and Leading Effectively: Reference material, 27). I decided this would be the best method because we have some strong personalities as well as some more deferential personalities within the group. So if I used a more open facilitation technique, certain individuals would likely dominate the conversation. So, during this process, everyone wrote down their ideas individually and then they shared out their ideas one at a time, going around the room until everyone had said their piece. As we did this, we grouped certain ideas together or eliminated certain ideas that were better expressed in other ways. We started with values and then moved on to concrete behaviours. During this process, we had a couple of interesting moments…

As I predicted, this process brought some simmering resentment between individuals to the surface. There was pre-existing conflict within the team about perceived differences in level of commitment and level of effort. I was glad that it was coming to the surface under these circumstances because there was a very clear end goal. When the conflict started to bubble up and the group shifted away from the production of an athlete agreement, I could re-direct it back to the task at hand, so the session didn’t turn into an airing of grievances. Whenever the conflict threatened to take over the session, I would offer a simple redirect: “ok, so what is the ideal behaviour and how can we reflect that in a written agreement?” And then, I would step into the background and allow the conversation to resume. This worked exactly as I had hoped because the level of conflict (NCCP, Managing Conflict: Reference material, 7) was not personal in nature. It was a conflict over facts or goals (what was done or what should be done), rather than methods or values. Ultimately, there was widespread agreement in regards to collective values and the ability to express that agreement in a collective setting filled in those “cracks” and left the foundation stronger, rather than “papering over them” and leaving vulnerabilities within the group unaddressed.

The other thing that occurred in moments of conflict was that two of the athletes in the group, who I would categorize as being “less outspoken” than others, fell back on the communication model of a “I see; I think; I feel; I need” message (Coaching and Leading Effectively, 19), which I first introduced at our High Performance Training Camp (all 40 athletes from across the province) in August 2019. I was totally blown away by this because while I believe in the efficacy of this technique, it always seems a little hokey to be practicing and roleplaying a technique like this. So while everyone participated in the exercise and some mentioned it in their feedback forms, there was no way for me to tell whether or not anyone had actually taken this to heart. So it was extremely validating that, in a moment of challenge, where I might have expected individuals to shrink away from interpersonal conflict, they a) rose to the occasion and didn’t back away; b) engaged with a technique that I introduced to the group over a year ago; and c) they were able to deliver a message respectfully and effectively, in a way that contributed value to the conversation.

Throughout the hours that we spent working on this exercise, my only contributions were as a secretary and an occasional guidepost to keep the group on-track. It also gave us the opportunity, without the usual distractions of phones ringing or games being played, to really engage with each other and interrogate the big-picture questions: “what do we value? what do we want? how do we get those things?” I don’t think that anyone’s goals changed over the course of the camp (because everyone is pretty set in their determination to succeed before they enter the EXCEL stream) but they certainly thought about those questions on a deeper level and that level of thought is enshrined in the agreement. Following our camp, I recorded the agreement, provided the opportunity to final feedback, and then it was agreed upon by our seven athletes and two coaches.

Our EXCEL group is comprised of competitive individuals who set extremely high standards for themselves. Moreover, the goals these individuals have set for themselves mean that we will likely be engaged with one another over the next decade or so. Because the nature of competitive sport is that you will fail far more often than you succeed, there will be disappointment and conflict within the group. I firmly believe that conflict is not inherently negative (NCCP, Managing Conflict: Reference material, 2). However, in order for that to be true, there must be an overall structure to help focus our conflict. My hope was that the athlete agreement will be a mechanism for that. When we have a conflict, we refer back to the values and behaviours outlined in the agreement and use that as the basis for resolving said conflict. More importantly, we now have a strong base that will govern every interaction that we have as individuals and a group, that will allow us to focus on achieving success both on and off the ice.

A snippet of our athlete agreement

Problem-Solving: Connecting and training meaningfully during a pandemic

Nobody’s routine has escaped the grasp of the Covid-19 pandemic. In hindsight, it seems inevitable, but the nature of sport is that you prepare for the unexpected. So, when that door finally slammed closed, the disappointment within our group was immense. Somewhat predictably, the malaise of a canceled 2019-20 season carried through the off-season and into what would usually be our “preparation period” ahead of the new season. Most of my athletes were confined to their living rooms or garages with a smattering of outdoor activities mixed in. As the pages of the calendar flipped closer to what would ordinarily be the start of training camps and exhibition play, it was impossible to ignore the fact that most ice rinks didn’t even have a date to re-open and going to a public gym felt like an immeasurable risk. Of course, everyone was dealing with a similar reality. What made my interactions that much more challenging was the fact that my group is spread out across the province: from Comox to Vancouver to Prince George to Castlegar and all points in between. Early in the summer, the leaders within our athlete group were great about organizing weekly check-ins and short Zoom calls that were more about personal well-being than anything sport-specific. However, as the summer dragged on and the worries compounded (sporting, educational, economic, etc.), enthusiasm for that waned as well. You can only ask someone “how was your week?” so many times when the answer is “I go to work and spend the rest of the time at home”.

Of course, hanging over all this was the spectre of Hockey Canada canceling the U18 National Championships in November (which they did in late August) and the International Ice Hockey Federation canceling their slate of 2020-21 World Championships. Meanwhile, we still had no firm date for a return-to-hockey and motivation was at an all-time low. In officiating, at the level we’re talking about, with female athletes, it’s all about performance at National tournaments as a springboard to the International level. That is compounded by the high level of uncertainty that accompanies every trip to the arena: will the game go ahead? Will we arrive to find that players are sitting out due to positive tests? How many fit players will each team have? This uncertainty continues after the game: every cough is overanalyzed, the public health warnings are watched carefully; however unlikely the possibility of exposure might be, the risk is still there.

So in these circumstances, my coaching staff and I set out to figure out how to engage our athletes in a meaningful way. For context, I’m usually on the road at least two weekends per month. So under normal circumstances, I see everyone in our group a couple of times a month; sometimes I go to them, other times they come to me. Now, not only is it logistically more difficult but also our program’s budget has been slashed as our PSO grapples with the financial uncertainty of COVID. So, like everyone else, we were going to be pushed into remote-delivery for the majority of our programming. While our athletes want to be engaged and want to keep training, they have asked us to provide them with a plan and a pathway through this pandemic that keeps them accountable without completely depleting their motivation.

With that in mind, I got together with our coaching staff to answer two key questions:

  1. What skills could be credibly trained (and monitored) in a remote-delivered environment?
  2. What activities or learning experiences do we “not have time for” under normal circumstances that we could prioritize now?

After some discussion, we decided to adopt three programming directives for the 2020-21 season:

  1. Treat the 2020-21 season as an “extended specific preparation phase” for the 2021-22 season, from a YTP perspective. Our rationale for this is that even though there will be games played, there is virtually no chance of having “meaningful” games at an elite level. Therefore, why restrict ourselves to the demands a normal season when we could think of this as a 10-month preparation phase for the 2021-22 season? Let’s use that flexibility to adopt a long-term mentality, do some experimentation, and see if we can learn something valuable.
  2. Increased focus on tactical development. Fortunately, every game in which our officials participate is available via third-party video. One of the biggest challenges for the athletes that enter our program is an underdeveloped tactical understanding of the game. In 2020-21, a lighter game schedule allows us to spend more time doing video breakdown with our athletes and because the games that are being played are at a lower level, it provides them with a more forgiving environment to practice implementing that tactical understanding.
    • This also applies to things like communication strategies and mental control. We can introduce new concepts and allow the athletes time to practice and find what works for them without the looming spectre of a major competition, by which time we need to have them settled into a routine.
  3. De-prioritize physical training. For context, physical training is usually our number one priority. So we obviously aren’t tossing it out altogether but rather moving it down the list. With all the uncertainty, and the associated physical and mental health challenges, setting aggressive athletic targets for our group just doesn’t seem useful. Some of our group is continuing to set those goals for themselves and we are supporting them in doing so but we are “taking our foot off the gas” with others, particularly our NextGen athletes.

As we are currently in-progress with implementing these programming directives, I feel like a more detailed breakdown will be the subject of a future blog post. But I also put on my educational hat and thought about how best to deliver these concepts. After much discussion with both coaching and educational colleagues, we settled on the following structure:

  1. Weekly 45-minute webinars. Given how much time everyone is spending on Zoom or in front of screens, the consensus was that this is the longest we could reasonably expect anyone to focus their attention.
  2. A 6-week cycle that addresses physical training, tactical understanding, and mental skills.
    • Week 1: Ask each athlete to commit to one physical training intervention that they could accomplish in the next six weeks. It could be goal-oriented but it could also be experimental (i.e. hypothesize-and-test). This is an opportunity to consult with our coaching team and plan out what that intervention will look like.
    • Week 2: We provide a specific mental preparation strategy and task them with implementing this in their game environments. This allows everyone a couple of weeks to implement, tweak, and report back on whether this was a useful strategy or not.
    • Weeks 3-4: We provide a specific tactical intervention that we have identified for the group as a whole and task them with working on this in their game environments. Each week will provide an opportunity to look at new video and discuss implementation.
    • Week 5: This is an opportunity to debrief the success of the mental preparation strategy that we introduced in Week 2, as well as the tactical intervention from Weeks 3 & 4.
    • Week 6: This is the conclusion of our cycle as well as Week 1 of the next cycle. This is where we check in on the physical intervention that they committed to in Week 1, assess the success of the intervention, and commit to a new intervention over the next six weeks.

Any suggestions on how to engage a group when your in-person hours have been cut to the bone (and then some) as well as keeping motivation up when there’s nothing to work towards?

Critical Thinking: Safe Sport in Hockey

Last month, I started writing something and it quickly became apparent that it was more than a blog post. So I kept working on it and it turned into a research paper, which I submitted to the sociology blog Hockey in Society, who published it last week. I certainly don’t expect everyone to read 3400 words on safe sport in Canadian amateur hockey, so I’ve provided some brief framing on why I was driven to write about it. However, the framing that I’ve included doesn’t get into the critical thinking aspects. In my paper, I present and analyze data that I collected from PSOs/NSO, discuss why the current situation is a problem, and then present solutions. I’ve included the link to my paper for anyone who is interested.

[Guest Post] Safe Sport is Core Value, Not an Obligation: Evaluating policy responses to safe sport in Canadian amateur hockey

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Framing the Problem
    3. Policy Accessibility
    4. Failure of Current Policy Solutions
    5. Safe Sport Requires Proactivity
    6. Conclusion


The concept of “safe sport” was first coined in response to the sexual abuse that was uncovered in sports in the 1980s; it’s impossible to know when, in the history of modern sport, predators began using sport as a cover for abuse. When these abuses were finally taken seriously by authorities (both legal and sporting), “safe sport” was coined to refer to the physical safety of participants.

In my first draft of this post, I wrote that “safe sport was originally an idea that everyone could get behind”. While this is true, I feel the need to qualify it: everyone understood a need for safe sport protections but Sport Organizations quarrelled with governments over scope and jurisdiction. It’s impossible to say that “Safe Sport 1.0” (from the 1980s onward) didn’t work; how can you measure the number of crimes that didn’t happen? Moreover, we don’t (and will never have) sufficient data to make that determination. But the evidence suggests these measures were at best moderately successful and at worst, a failure.

Now the world is moving on. Over the last decade, society has slowly woken up to the injustices that have been perpetrated against people because of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality. It was only a matter of time before this bled over into sport. I won’t presume to speak for other sports but social movements were always likely to come into conflict with hockey’s natural conservatism. An unrelated indicator of hockey’s conservatism is that there are still a handful of NHL teams, fully professional entities with payrolls approaching a hundred million dollars, who don’t employ anyone in the field of data science/performance analytics. Safe sport is primarily an issue in amateur sport but I use this point to illustrate the general culture of North American hockey. Since the worldwide protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May, Hockey Canada has released a single-paragraph statement; most provincial hockey organizations didn’t make any kind of statement. When the NHL resumed play in July, they were roundly criticized for the tepid quality of their racial justice statements [1, 2, 3].

So what does any of this have to do with safe sport? Our constituents who are part of racial, religious, or gender/sexuality minorities are asking for more than words; they are asking to be shown a pathway to success within the sport. As the world moves on, sport must do the same. We cannot simply guarantee that our participants will be safe from physical abuse and expect that to be enough. We need to take steps to secure the emotional and psychological safety of our participants and provide sport environments that are free from discrimination and harassment.

The concept of safe sport is important to me but I also believe this is more than a moral imperative. I truly believe that our current approach to safe sport is an existential threat to the place of hockey in Canada’s sporting landscape. The cost of hockey is rising, the demographics of Canada are changing, and the upper-echelons of the sport are still predominantly, if not exclusively, white and male. It is not pre-ordained that hockey must be Canada’s most popular sport and if the sport’s governing bodies are not in a position to guarantee safety for all, then hockey may become a niche sport over the few decades.

This is the place from which I approach the problem of safe sport in Canadian amateur hockey. I engage the NCCP competency of critical thinking by comparing what is currently available around safe sport and our current practices with the changes in social attitudes and scholarly knowledge on the subject. Then, I evaluate and recommend options for further action by stakeholders in the sport.

Link to my paper:

[Guest Post] Safe Sport is Core Value, Not an Obligation: Evaluating policy responses to safe sport in Canadian amateur hockey

Leading: Defining Inclusion in High Performance Sport

In my first blog post, I shared my coaching philosophy. One of the six key behaviours through which I express my philosophy is that my coaching is inclusive. The importance of this behaviour is underpinned by my overall core value that the ultimate purpose of sport is to contribute to the mental and physical well-being and the ultimate success of the individual on their chosen path. There is nothing is more important in sport than the person within the athlete. Sport, in and of itself, has no value. Moreover, as I work closely with individual athletes, I do not believe that an athlete can perform successfully if they do not understand that they are safe in my coaching environment. Therefore, I prioritize the creation of a coaching environment is inclusive for athletes, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or gender identity. That’s a lovely sentiment but what does it mean, particularly in a “high performance” context?


I exist with a foot in both the sporting and educational spheres and so, I am intimately familiar with how “inclusion” has become a buzzword. It’s a term that educators, coaches, administrators, technical leaders, or charlatans are eager to insert into policy documents and coaching philosophies to “score points”, so to speak, and appear more sensitive to the issues of our time. Whether one does this out of self interest, moral fortitude, or something in between those two poles, that is the reality. With that in mind, it is not unreasonable to question someone’s use of the term “inclusion” in order to gauge their understanding of the term and how it might apply to their coaching. Therefore, I was was both un-surprised and pleased when Dave posted the following comment on my blog:

My last thought… is whether sport at the highest levels becomes more exclusive than inclusive.  I too champion the need for inclusion and diversity in sport, and believe that both are required for “performance participation”.  However, is the nature of sport not a paradox to a fully inclusive approach?

The short answer is that I agree with Dave and the meaning of inclusion is highly relative. While that sounds like an evasive, “both sides” type of answer, I simply mean that the practice of inclusion is dependent on the context in which we are operating. I’m sure I could write an M.A. thesis on the subject (Dr. Van Neutegem would be thrilled) but for the purposes of this post, I’ll speak to three very broad categories: grassroots, governance, and high performance.

Grassroots sport

At the grassroots level, the goal should be to be “truly” inclusive and remove many, if not all, barriers to entry. Those barriers tend to be sport-specific but I’ll speak to examples of what I know, which is hockey. Over the last five years, amateur (minor) hockey organizations have been focused on the financial barriers of hockey and how those can be mitigated. Some of those adaptations include “Try Hockey” events, equipment libraries, and bursaries for registration fees. Unfortunately, these are still viewed as specialty programs and the bulk of participants are expected to shoulder the increasing financial burdens of participation.

Even in the case of an individual with a physical challenge or a developmental delay, we should make every effort to include them at the grassroots and Active for Life levels. I have observed success with integrating individuals with physical disabilities, developmental delays, and autism spectrum disorders in grassroots sport in the last several years. These people were certainly not welcome when I was a participant in grassroots hockey in the late 90s and early 00s. However, persons who are differently-abled are still viewed as special circumstances to be accommodated on a case-by-case basis if there is impetus to do so. We can do better; we can and should aim for true inclusion at the grassroots level.

Governance of sport

One issue that is glaringly obvious is the fact that participation in hockey is increasingly racially/culturally/gender-diverse at the grassroots level but the upper echelons continue to be homogenous. The senior staff and directors of sport organizations continue to be overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cis-gender men of a certain age. This type of homogeneity is self-perpetuating. The insularity of the community is maintained and the result is that diverse individuals (I hate that term, I’m sorry) are out of the sport long before they are eligible for positions of leadership.

We need urgent research, backed by decisive action from our Provincial and National Sport Organizations, and robust external oversight to address the root causes of why these individuals are self-selecting out or being selected out of the sport. Broadly-speaking, our culture is a purported meritocracy; there is an ethos of “putting your time in” to “earn” opportunities. Without diving into a sociological analysis of whether or not that is even true, I will simply assert that an individual can not and will not spend decades “earning” their opportunities in an environment that is not inclusive. Moreover, this issue is a perfect storm because the actions that are taken today likely won’t pay dividends until ten, fifteen, or twenty years down the road. So governing bodies can make statements and form committees but the longer they wait to take action, the longer we wait to see meaningful change.

High performance sport

So, I clearly feel quite strongly about the need to improve access and inclusion in sport. Having said that, I recognize that at a high performance level, there will be more natural barriers to access. Some of these can be overcome but others cannot. An example that applies across the board is that every sport has an ideal physical profile for their high performance athletes. If an individual falls too far outside of that profile, they not a viable high performance athlete. A lot of those physical traits are determined by genetics; that is a major barrier to entry right off the bat and there is nothing we can do about that. However, I don’t believe that 81.5% of USPORT athletes are visibly identifiable as “white” simply based on a superior genetic profile. As I alluded to in the previous section, there is no question that certain athletes are self-selecting or being selected out of competitive sport long before they arrive on a USPORT team.

There are also barriers that can be mitigated but not erased: for example, elite athletic training costs both money and time. Every sport in the world is becoming more competitive, meaning athletes who can access training at an earlier age are at an advantage. Additionally, athletes who have the ability to live at home into their twenties are able to dedicate more of their time to optimizing their training as compared to athletes who have to keep a steady income to pay their living expenses. So, although having affluent parents is not a requirement, stated or otherwise, in order to compete at an elite level, there is no question that it helps. Unfortunately, as we live in a capitalist society, as much as we may mitigate those types of inequalities, we will never erase them entirely. Nonetheless, we should endeavour to do so.


High performance sport is, by it’s nature, exclusionary. By using the designation of  “high performance” we are excluding those who cannot train and compete at a certain level. Therefore, when I think about inclusion as a core behaviour within my philosophy, as a coach and technical leader in a high performance context, I am thinking that if a barrier to access exists, one of two things must be true: either I should have a plan to remove or mitigate said barrier or I should have an irrefutable explanation as to why removal or mitigation is not feasible at this time.

As I think about my own experience in sport, I can think of countless viable participants and athletes at different levels who “didn’t fit the culture” (subtext: was uncomfortable with hazing-type behaviour) or “didn’t gel tactically” (subtext: didn’t get on with the star of the team) or even individuals who didn’t fit in socially with most of the group and, instead of viewing that as a challenge to address, was viewed by coaches as a problem to be removed. Every person who grew up in sport can recall examples of wholly unjustifiable exclusion and unfortunately, I’m sure some of us were those examples.

We must work urgently to create environments that allow for heterogeneity. That means educating our athletes on inclusive behaviour and constructing a team culture reflects those values. While I feel somewhat equipped to do that, I am not an expert by any means and so we as coaches and technical leaders must also work to educate ourselves. We should allow our athletes from marginalized populations to set terms of engagement but not rely on them to lead or educate others. We must allow our athletes to flourish both within sport and outside of it; because sport has no value if it does not contribute to the nourishment of the whole person. This requires us to do the work in advance and commit to building trusting relationships that will allow those athletes to succeed or fail on their own merits. There is enough natural exclusivity in high performance sport and our mission should be to ensure our environments are as inclusive as possible and to always strive for better.

Valuing: My Coaching Philosophy

The concept of establishing values and practicing those values has always been central to my education as both a teacher and a coach. As a result, I have spent a great deal of time considering what my values are and how they apply to my practice. Moreover, my coaching career has centred around building programs, both at the grassroots and high performance level. Therefore, the ability to articulate values and achieve buy-in from athletes, colleagues, and other stakeholders has been critical to my success.

Although I am satisfied with my coaching philosophy in its present form, I am aware that philosophy is an evolving set of ideas and I am interested to see how it changes through my time in this program. I will also be interested in seeing if my philosophy shifts as my athletes target a more elite level of performance. I don’t anticipate a change in my core values but I am interested to see if some of the more specific behaviours or leadership styles outlined in my philosophy shift or change based on my coaching context. In terms of a more specific outcome, one of my goals in this program is to position myself as an expert and serve the sport as a leader via coach education and program development. So part one way in which I can measure the success of my philosophy will be whether I can model the way for others in responsible and ethical coaching practices that align with their personal values.

In terms of evidence, the following is a document, which I frequently annotate and update. This is the document from which I draw and adapt pertinent points to use in presentations with athletes, prospective athletes, colleagues, and other stakeholders. It is based on the NCCP template of coaching philosophy as an intersection of purpose, leadership style, and values.



This coaching philosophy is a representation of what guides my decisions both inside and outside of the coaching realm. I share my philosophy with all of my athletes, colleagues, and stakeholders and my experiences with these individuals continue to shape my philosophy. My purpose, my leadership style, and my values each contribute to the philosophy that guides my coaching.


My purpose in coaching is to partner with people to build themselves and their communities into something greater. This is not simply my purpose in coaching, it is my purpose in life. It guides my interactions with my athletes, my students, my colleagues, and the people in my community. My success in achieving my purpose can will be measured according to the following three criteria:

          1. Of the athletes that I coach, how many of them did I help to achieve success at the level they targeted for themselves?
          2. Of the athletes and participants that I coach, how many of them continued to be involved in the sport in an Active for Life context after their progression was complete?
          3. Of the athletes and participants that I coach, how many of them have taken positive experiences from the sport and used those experiences and skills to achieve success in other areas of life?

Leadership Style

My leadership style centers around the NCCP core leadership practices of “inspiring a shared vision” by “modeling the way”, which “enables [the athletes I coach] to act”. The reason for this is simple: our program operates in a similar manner to most provincial or national teams. Our athletes spend the majority of the year spread out across the province. So, although they are following detailed training and competition schedules, it is impossible for me to monitor the minutiae of their lives. Therefore, our success depends on my athletes’ belief in our shared vision. In order to inspire that belief, they need to trust my values and that I have their best interests at heart by walking the talk. This in turn, allows my athletes to feel equipped and empowered to communicate with me honestly and to act in their own best interests on a day-to-day basis. It is through this formula that we will achieve success.

My Values

My personal values align closely with the NCCP core principles and ethical standards of behaviour. I believe that the ultimate purpose of sport is to contribute to the mental and physical well-being and the ultimate success of the individual on their chosen path. Moreover, athletes and coaching must be ambassadors for the sport in their behaviour both in and outside of the sporting context. If sport is not contributing to those outcomes in the athletes that I coach or our behaviour is not worthy of ambassadorship on behalf of the sport, then I have failed in my responsibilities. As long as I am prioritizing the safety and health of the athletes, understanding and respecting the authority that comes with my role as a coach, conducting my relationships with the utmost integrity and transparency, and treating both athletes and the sport with the utmost respect and inspiring that respect in them, I will be a successful and ethical coach.

My Philosophy

My coaching philosophy is built on six pillars, each of which support my mission statement. This philosophy guides every interaction with my athletes, colleagues, and stakeholders. I encourage these individuals to speak up when they feel that I have made a decision that does not align with this philosophy. My philosophy is expressed through the following six statements:

My coaching is inclusive. There is nothing more important in sport than the person within the athlete. My coaching environment is inclusive for athletes, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or gender identity. An athlete cannot be successful if they do not understand that they are safe in my coaching environment.

My coaching is athlete-centred. Every decision is made by placing the outcomes that will affect the athlete at the centre of the decision-making process. This includes decisions regarding my personal development or the development of the program at large. If an outcome that is best for the program or for me personally but is incongruous with the best interests of the athlete, then the decision and the parameters therein must be re-examined.

My coaching matches the athlete’s passion. While it is my responsibility to inspire a shared vision with my athletes, I cannot create passion for the sport or motivation to succeed. I can only show them the path for them to act on their passion and achieve success. For my own well-being as well as the overall success of our program, I cannot be more invested in an athlete’s success than they are themselves. However, I am committed to maintaining an inclusive environment for athletes at different stages of their long-term development and will always match their passion.

My coaching prioritizes values over rules. I value sport because it contributes to the ultimate success of the person in their chosen endeavours. My coaching decisions and interactions reflect that value. I do not want to train athletes to follow my instructions because I said so. I want to teach athletes to identify their own values and buy in to the collective values of the program and regulate their own behaviour accordingly.

My coaching walks the talk. In my interactions with athletes, colleagues and stakeholders, it is crucial that I never ask them to do something that I would not do myself. If I am asking for their patience, it is because I have demonstrated patience. If I am asking for their perseverance, it is because I have persevered in service of their success. I am confident in my ability to elicit peak performance if the athletes understand that I am working just as hard to facilitate their success as they are working to achieve it.

My coaching is driven by life-long learning. In the same way that sport requires an athlete to push themselves to improve, coaches must continue to improve. If I am to “walk the talk” and be the resource that pushes my athletes to success, I must continue to learn and improve my coaching practice throughout my career. As soon as I allow my own development to stagnate, it’s only a matter of time before I am no longer a useful resource for the athletes that I coach.