Teach Skills that Matter with First Principles

There’s a big difference between following a recipe and knowing how to cook.

There’s a big difference between stealing a drill and understanding why you are doing the drill. We need to know the basic principles that make a skill, concept, or system work and how it applies in a game situation. When that is understood you have the power to take inspiration from anyone’s drill and modify it to meet your needs.

The First Principles mental model can be used to identify the skills that matter and craft your style of play.

Teach Skills that Matter

The skills that matter most allow a player to solve problems that occur frequently in a game as well as take advantage of high leverage moments.

Passing occurs with high frequency so it is an important skill. Shooting happens much less but has a high impact. It’s hard to score without a shot on net. These are two examples of skills to leverage.

Here’s another one. 70%-80% of goals start with a puck on the boards. Being able to play in that area of the ice will impact the outcome of the game.

A useful analogy is that of the child who keeps asking, why? Children think in first principles all the time. Increase the quality of your questions and go deeper. Then, ask yourself, Why? Why? Why?

Questions to consider:

What are the most important problems to be solved in a game?

How does each position contribute to the success of the team when solving those problems?

What recurring situations do players in each position face in each zone?

What skills are required to execute in these situations?

Developing a Style of Play

In the 1940’s Anatoly Tarasov, the “father of Russian hockey” was tasked with forming the first-ever Russian national hockey team. He wasn’t confined to tradition or a fixed opinion on how the game should be played. Using only the ice-hockey rule book as his first-principles he found the possibilities of what could be done on the ice. The result was a free flowing style of hockey based on skill and puck movement.

For a fascinating look into Tarasov’s methods in developing a style of play, check out the article , “Coaching Philosophy and Methods of Anatoly Tarasov: ‘Father’ of Russian Ice Hockey, by Vladislav Bespomoshchnov from Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences and Jeffrey Caron from McGill University in Canada.

I met with Vlad on my Coaching Project Podcast to discuss this very topic.

Establishing First-Principles

To learn more about this type of thinking, you can read the full length essay, “First Principles: The Building Blocks of Knowledge”. It outlines techniques for establishing first principles with tips on how to employ this thinking in your daily life.

The internet can be a wonderful place to find inspiration. Many coaches are readily sharing drills and ideas which can make our coaching community stronger. It’s important to take some time to consider the purpose behind everything you do. First principles thinking is a mental model that can guide your process.

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