When it comes to hockey player development, so many factors play into the big picture.
Things like physical ability, work ethic, self-confidence and attitude play a HUGE part in how well a player develops—both on and off the ice.
And while we know that great coaching, proper training regimens & adequate ice time are precursors to proper player development, one question remains unanswered…
Why do some payers develop better or more rapidly than others?
I covered this topic briefly in my previous article on hockey player development, but this time around I’m talking about a completely different concept.
Consider the following example…
If you were to take two hockey players that are carbon copies of each other—that is, they have the exact same potential, undergo the exact same coaching & training, and have the exact same physical ability—why would one end up developing better or faster than the other?
Well, the answer might have to do with a psychological concept called ‘The Pygmalion Effect‘.
And this Pygmalion Effect has nothing to do with the players, and ALL to do with the coach.
If you’re a hockey coach (or any coach for that matter), you need to understand this weird effect so you can use it to your advantage and get the most out of your players.
In fact, just understanding how to apply it can improve your entire lineup.
It’s not about X’s and O’s on a whiteboard…
It’s not even about booking extra ice-time at your local rink…
If you want to improve your entire team, and more importantly, help your players develop faster and more effectively, then keep reading…
What’s the Pygmalion Effect all about?
The definition of the Pygmalion Effect in psychology is as follows:
“The Pygmalion effect is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy where if you think something will happen, you may unconsciously make it happen through your actions or inaction.”
Let me explain in plain English…
The Pygmalion effect is at work when someone raises their expectations of someone else’s performance, which actually leads to an increase in said person’s performance.
If it isn’t obvious already, this concept is extremely important in coaching—especially when it comes to player development.
But before we apply this concept to hockey, let’s take a look at it at work in the classroom.
The Pygmalion Effect at work
A study conducted by Rosenthal & Jacobson showed that, “if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced.“
Their whole hypothesis is that reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectations of others.
In their study, a teacher was led to believe that a handful of students were smarter than the others (even though they were chosen at random), and so the teacher expected them to do better than the rest.
These higher expectations led to actions and inactions by the teacher that fostered a higher performance from these supposedly “smarter” students—even though they were chosen at random!
That’s the Pygmalion Effect at work in the classroom, and it’s just as powerful in the hockey world.
The Pygmalion Effect for hockey coaches
Remember our two identical hockey players?
What if a hockey coach is told before the season that Player 1 has tremendous potential? Even if it’s not true, he’ll most likely treat him differently than Player 2—even though they’re identical players in all facets of the game.
Whether on a conscious or subconscious level, this new expectation WILL cause a change in the coach’s actions and/or lack of actions towards both players.
- He may convey that he believes in Player 1 more often than he does Player 2.
- He may be more demanding of Player 1 than he is of Player 2
- He may meet less with Player 2 than he does with Player 1
- He may be more negative with Player 2 than he is with Player 1
The list can go on and on, but it’s clear in the scenario above that Player 1 would come out on top in terms of performance and/or development due to the Pygmalion Effect.
The idea here is that a coach’s expectations can lead to actions & inactions that directly or indirectly affect a player’s performance—most times without the coach even realizing it!
A real life example of the Pygmalion Effect in hockey
I know I talk about Guy Boucher often on this website, but it’s because he was one of my mentors and in my opinion is one of the great minds in hockey today.
Back in Junior, not a day would go by where he wouldn’t check in on each and every player on our team.
Even if it was just to talk about things other than hockey, he always wanted you to stop by his office and chat for a few minutes.
He always conveyed that he believed in you and would stress that he had high expectations for your upcoming game.
It seems insignificant, I know.
But you didn’t want to let him down…
When a player knows his coach believes in him and expects nothing but the best, you can be damn sure that the player will do everything he can to get the job done.
And after bad performances, he made it clear that he wanted more—it’s safe to say you worked twice as hard that week during practice to make sure you were ready for your next game.
That’s the power of the Pygmalion Effect. Unfortunately, it’s not all roses and rainbows…
The downside of the Pygmalion Effect
So far the Pygmalion Effect has proven to be nothing but awesomeness.
Unfortunately, it’s a double-edged sword for coaches.
You probably caught on already, but the underlying message is this…
Show your players you believe in them, and they well excel—but neglect them, and they will under perform.
It unfortunately works both ways.
Just as you can have high expectations for one player and have them strive to meet those expectations, neglecting another player either consciously or subconsciously can lead to bad performance and even underdevelopment.
You’ve been warned!
The Pygmalion effect can make a huge difference in a player’s level of development and/or performance.
As a coach, make sure you convey your expectations early and often to your players, without being overly hard on them of course.
The idea here is to let your players know you believe in them and that you expect them to perform.
By doing this, they’ll subconsciously work harder to meet your expectations.
It’s not trickery or cheating—it’s simply communication between teacher and student.
Remember to treat everyone the same and not favor one player over another, even if skill level differs.
In fact, you can oftentimes bring about more change with this conceptt in lower performing players than in higher performing players, as it’s those who are struggling that need to know you believe in them.
Show your players you believe.
The rest will take care of itself with a bit of help from the Pygmalion Effect.